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By Orville Williams

Guild President at the University of the West Indies Five Islands campus, Caleb Gardiner, says a mix of both online and face-to-face learning is likely the best approach ahead of the 2020/2021 academic year.

Just this week, officials at the UWI Mona campus in Jamaica announced that they would be making 100% of their courses available online, though they would maintain capacity for some face-to-face learning.

Speaking to Observer yesterday, Gardiner said that though discussions are currently underway, a decision has not yet been made for the Five Islands campus.

“We haven’t made a concrete decision as yet. We’re still trying to work out the logistics, trying to make sure that we can have all our handwashing stations and so on [in place] there, but there’s nothing concrete as yet,” he disclosed.

He also shared that based on the operations throughout this Covid-19 period, face-to-face classes are likely to still be a feature at Five Islands.  

“Yes, from how we’re operating now, we’re aiming toward doing that. If not fully [face-to-face], a blended approach.

“From the Covid-19 task force, the different campuses are looking for a blended approach, but each campus is different. Five Islands is smaller, so we could actually space out persons, but for Trinidad and Jamaica, it’s tough for them,” he shared.

The Guild president went on to explain that finding the appropriate balance to both benefit the students and maintain the university’s standards was not easy.

“That’s a tough one. Personally, I would say a blended approach is best. However, some persons will be affected tremendously with the online approach, because not everybody has good internet access, not everybody has laptops and so forth. Although we have made a choice to help some persons [to] get some devices.

“[With] face-to-face, however, persons will have their coronavirus fears, so it’s 50/50. I think, depending on the course, you could have face-to-face, like [for] a Math course or something more technical. For theory, you could have an online approach toward that [type of] learning,” Gardiner explained.

Speaking on the recently-concluded end-of-year exams, he added that the students did perform at their best, despite the many challenges. 

“Overall, I would say most students were relieved that it was finished. It was a tough time mentally for many students; however, I believe everybody put their best foot forward,” he said.

Gardiner also spoke on the recent announcement by US immigration authorities that international students whose courses move fully online this upcoming year, could face having their visas revoked. He explained that, while it is a sad reality, it could benefit the region in more ways than one.

“Well, I’m a big advocate of our Caribbean students staying in the Caribbean to study. We suffer greatly from brain drain, so I think it’s an opportunity for students to stay here and capitalise on UWI, whether it’s the Open Campus or the different campuses.

“At the same time, everybody has a different perspective on Caribbean education versus a US education and they want more opportunities. For me, personally, it would definitely be capitalising on a Caribbean education. That would force [students] to stay in the region, so that we could have a better economy and be more self-sufficient, not losing our talented students,” Gardiner said.

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