In March, the students of the 18,000-odd academic programs in Germany could suddenly no longer physically attend lectures or go to their university libraries. Everything went online. Though there was little enthusiasm for the abrupt digital switch, “nobody refused outright,” said Bernhard Kempen, the president of the German Association of University Professors and Lecturers. He said academics who had struggled with the technology had been offered support.
Read more: Germany could benefit as foreign students ditch US, UK during pandemic
Kempen said the priority became ensuring that all students would be able to continue their studies successfully. Initial proposals to “cancel” the semester were promptly dismissed, as that could also have delayed the beginning of careers for many students.
Not all students adjusted well. “I don’t have good internet reception” was one complaint compiled by the Federal Union of International Students and the Free Federation of Student Unions (FZS). “I don’t have a decent computer,” “The accommodation center isn’t calm enough” and “I can’t do everything alone — I need contact with other students,” were others.
Although many universities lent laptops to students to assist with the transition to digital learning, the bigger problem is money, FZS board member Amanda Steinmaus said. Only about 12 % of students in Germany receive state grants to fund their education — meaning that most have to work while they are in school. “The biggest problem is that many students lost their jobs in restaurants and cafes or at trade fairs,” said Steinmaus, who is studying English and history at the University of Duisburg-Essen. Furthermore, not all students have access to the €500 ($590) per month that the government has offered to tide students over during the pandemic. “It is sometimes really complicated,” Steinmaus said, for students to prove that they need the funds.
Read more: India’s coronavirus caseload surges to second-highest in world
Some students have wondered whether it even makes sense to try to complete their studies during the pandemic. Exams, for one, have become very complicated. For doctoral students, they often take place via video link. Others are in-person, with a big amount of space between the examinee and the examiner. Some students have taken written tests at home — leading some lecturers to speculate that they might cheat.
Kempen rejected this. “The students are not being lazy,” he said. “They’re studying seriously. They are astonishingly disciplined — which we can see from the amount of people applying to attend lectures online.” He said the universities had been able to carry out exams in a fair and sensible manner because state-level education ministries had reacted appropriately to the special circumstances.
Read more: What’s the harm in Zoom schooling or contact tracing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus?
Though the transition to digital has been particularly difficult for students in their early semesters — who may have been acclimating new towns and often living away from their families for the first time — older students also said they had struggled with the lack of contact with their peers and lecturers. The University of Bonn launched the “Signs of Life” project to confront such issues and to maintain dialogue. Professors and students were called upon to write about their concerns. Most indicated that they would prefer for study not to be online permanently — and the decision was made to open labs to small groups of students studying hard sciences such as physics and chemistry starting in the winter semester.
Read more: The Venice Film Festival and cinema as the antidote to coronavirus depression
In-person teaching will remain the exception. “As long as there is no vaccine,” one professor said, “university will be mainly online.”
“Universities cannot afford to become COVID-19 hotspots,” another said.
More than 5,900 German college and university teachers have signed an open letter calling for a return to in-person instruction — arguing that universities are places of “encounter” and university life is a “collective phase” for students, during which important friendships and networks are forged. The signatories wrote that university teaching is founded on “critical, cooperative and trustworthy exchange between mature people” and added that this requires a physical presence. They wrote that the “digital leap forward” precipitated by the pandemic has threatened these aspects of university life.
Read more: Berlin could be a more appealing place during the pandemic, a DW culture writer thinks
Some academics have raised their fears that politicians want to save on teaching costs by ushering in more digital technology. “This is nonsense,” Kempen said. “We will not stick to concepts that are centuries old,” he added. “In-person teaching will be supplemented — but never replaced — by digital courses.”
Translated from German by ACT.
The roughly 250 students who attend Wat Khlong Toey School in Bangkok now sit in plastic cubicles during class, and must keep their face masks all day. Sinks and soap dispensers are positioned outside each classroom, and temperatures are taken as students arrive to school in the morning. The strict measures seem to be working: the school has reported no new infections since July.
These students in the capital, Wellington, are happy they can still go to school. Those in Auckland aren’t so lucky. After the country went virus-free for three months, four new cases were reported in the country’s largest city on August 11. Health authorities ordered the closure of schools and non-essential businesses in the city, and told citizens to stay home.
Students in Sweden are still enjoying their summer holidays, but this picture of graduates taken before the break continues to symbolize the country’s special approach to dealing with COVID-19. Unlike almost everywhere else in the world, the Scandinavian country has never required citizens to wear masks. Businesses, bars, restaurants and schools have all remained open.
These students at Petri Primary School in Dortmund, North Rhine-Westphalia, are exhibiting exemplary behavior. Like all schools in Germany’s most populous state, theirs requires face masks. Yet unlike students in Germany’s other 15 states, they must also wear them in the classroom. It’s too early to tell if the measures are working, however — the school year only kicked off on August 12.
School has also resumed in Hebron, some 30 kilometers (19 miles) south of Jerusalem. Students in the region are required to wear face masks, with some schools even calling for gloves. Yet despite her mask, this teacher’s enthusiasm is evident. Schools in the Palestinian territories have been closed since March, with Hebron being an epicenter of infections.
This class of high school students in Tunis began wearing masks in May. As schools across the North African country resume in the coming weeks, all students will be required to wear them. When Tunisia’s schools were closed for several weeks in March, parents had to school their children at home, helping them with TV and internet-based learning programs until classes could resume in early summer.
This school in Dandwal, in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, has a special setup for students who have no access to the internet. Here they can attend a type of tutoring session to catch up on missed assignments, listening to prerecorded classes over a loudspeaker. Maharashtra was particularly hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
Authorities in Lingwala, a well-heeled suburb in the Congolese capital, Kinshasa, are taking the threat of coronavirus infections among students extremely seriously. Every student attending the suburb’s Reverend Kim School is required to have his or her temperature taken before being allowed to enter the building. Face masks are also mandatory.
Schools in the US are also doing daily temperature checks to detect potential COVID-19 cases. Such measures are urgently needed in the country, which continues to see some of the world’s highest infection rates. On August 13, Johns Hopkins University reported that more people had died within the past 24 hours than at any point since late May.
Maura Silva (left) is a teacher at a public school in western Rio de Janeiro, near one of the city’s largest slums. She makes an effort to visit her students at home, and brings along her “hug kit.” Before taking them in her arms, Silva and her students put on masks and she helps them to put on plastic gloves.