By Orville Williams
The first ‘full’ semester at the University of the West Indies’ Five Islands campus amid the Covid-19 pandemic has been deemed a success by President of the Guild of Students, Caleb Gardiner.
Like several other educational institutions, the UWI was adversely affected by the pandemic last year, with the need for social distancing and other protocols resulting in the suspension of face-to-face activities and forcing the widespread adoption of digital learning.
Upon assessment of the pandemic and its various impacts, a decision was made to apply a blended learning approach across its regional collective, Five Islands falling within that group.
Speaking to Observer, Gardiner said despite the many challenges, the semester did indeed go well.
“The semester that has passed was pretty good. Many of the new students had to quickly adapt to the online learning, some of which came from college, so they had basic understanding of what was to be expected. However, the UWI Five Islands, we adapted and used Zoom and Moodle to carry out classes.
“For many of the students, their main concern was mental health and what we did as a Guild was to stage a stress management webinar [to] help students cope. That was the main concern…also, how [they] would get internet, [but] we found good ways in which we could help students combat any issues they had.
“[Besides] that, it was a pretty smooth semester, many students I know for a fact excelled because of the previous semesters, so I honestly do believe that it was a successful semester. Despite the challenges, we were able to adapt, which was the most important thing, and to learn so that we could better next semester.”
Not only did the pandemic affect time-sensitive aspects of the campus’ operations, it also put a dent into plans the administration and the Guild would have had for the short-term future. This, Gardiner said, meant they had to adjust their thinking.
Several initiatives are now on the cards for the new year, many of them coming out of the needs made evident by the pandemic.
“From the inception, my initial plans as Guild President changed, so off the bat I had to go into contingency planning. The plans I, as well as my fellow colleagues have for next semester, [are] simple. We are going to have a business expo for students who are business owners [as] we’re trying to cultivate a spirit of entrepreneurship on the campus.
“One way we want to do that is by giving incentives to students – having a session where they will learn how to make a business plan [and] how to market their business.
“[Another] plan is to have [medical insurance] for the students [and] I have already reached out to a company to get prices for [potential] plans for the students, Gardiner explained.
One of the other plans, he added, is to host a series of self-development [initiatives] for the students, as a means of preparation for the ‘new world of work’. To this end, Gardiner disclosed that they will be undertaking a partnership with the potential for significant success.
“Myself and the other Guild councillors from around the region, we’re planning to have a series and we’re teaming up with the APEX of Training and Development Show to host these events.
“[The reason for the partnership is], although Covid-19 has changed the way we do everything, I think it’s time for us to come to grips with it, to then adapt and prepare for life post-Covid. So, this series of workshops is geared toward preparing students for the world of work post-Covid.
“We’re going to have six weeks of different presenters, presenting on topics that are essential for the world of work and to better [prepare the] students.”