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What is the fate of university students amidst COVID-19 pandemic in Sierra Leone?

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By: Aloysius Tamba Foryoh

By late March this year, Sierra Leone was threatened by news coming from its sister neighboring countries, Guinea and Liberia as they recorded cases of the Coronavirus, the government of Sierra Leone, led by His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio announced some preventive measures including a declaration for the closure of all academic institutions on March 31st, 2020 primarily for social distancing reason.

This came at a time when primary and secondary schools were at the verge of ending second term activities for the 2019/2020 academic calendar, for the higher learning institutions, students were on their first semester exams for the academic year.

The shocking news from the government affected students and institutions so much that some could not finish writing their exams as was timetabled, some tightened the time table and finished in a rush which is likely to affect student’s performance.

The day learning institutions were closed was the very day we recorded our first cumulative case as a country, March 31.

In a normal situation, this was supposed to be a two week holiday that elapses immediately after our Independence Celebration (April 27), sadly, this is now the ninth week since the closure of academic institutions in the country, seven weeks have gone unproductive and unutilized on the side of students

Has this government taken any proactive step to respond to the educational needs of its citizens ?

What has gone wrong with the MOU Africell signed with the University of Sierra Leone for the implementation of E-Learning Big Data project which was to cover the provision of mobile connectivity to staff and students of the university, access to and the utilization of the USL web portal in a reliable and cost-effective manner, zero-rating of the USL web portal mobile application to eliminate mobile data tariffs to access the web portal?

Public Notice from the University of Sierra Leone

Do you know that the web portal mobile application has huge faults with student’s details, mismatching their registration numbers, course of studies or their current levels ?

Do you know that since the university published a public notice on May 12th notifying its students and staff that the university had commenced lectures on the 9th, three days before the notice was made, no single lectures have commenced on that portal?

Do you know that both students and lecturers are unfamiliar with the application?

Are you also aware that few enthusiastic and passionate lecturers are doing their best to help start online lectures via WhatsApp which is not accommodating all students due to the limit in participants per WhatsApp group?

As usual, to be diplomatic, I’ll say so many things are wrong but the honest truth is, everything is wrong.

Now, this government can engage DSTI to develop animations to help lecturers and students on how to use the web portal application, Zoom, google classroom, google meet and few other video and audio conferencing applications that would suit the purpose.

This government, through NATCOM can also engage telecommunications companies/internet service providers to develop special data package promotions for lecturers and students using these applications as they can’t afford the current ratings.

Better still, the government can engage application developers in the country to develop special and data-free/offline applications just for the learning process.

Africell mobile company MOU document with the University of Sierra Leone

As of now, I honestly cannot advocate for the reopening of universities in Sierra Leone due to our current level of behaviors or compliance to COVID measures which is primarily responsible for the increase in infection rate.

It is better our National Response Team stop the babbling and get to work now.

We’ve heard more than enough, people now want to see result of the many talks and strategies/measures.

We should now be talking of getting our infection to zero.

Sierra Leoneans, truth be told, we all have a responsibility to get this done, if you believe that there’s God, they also believe that there’s COVID, take precautionary measures as advised, by that, we’ll get to zero and our lives will become normal once again, everyone is missing something, but we can’t get it until we get rid of Coronavirus in our country, so let’s do this together

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