|▲ Students taking an in-person class at a lecture room whare hand-sanitizers and partitions that divide desks are installed on May 11.
The government has relaxed social distancing rules including the outdoor mask mandate as the number of COVID-19 cases has declined in recent weeks. As of the start of this semester, however, daily infections had risen rapidly across the country. There were about 3,000 cases in March and 1,000 cases in April at Chonnam National University. During those times, students confirmed as having coronavirus infections had complained that they had difficulties in keeping up with classes. During the quarantine period, especially at the beginning of the semester, many of those students expressed their complaints about the violation of their right to learn because many of them could not be provided proper and sufficient class-related materials, such as online lectures or voice recordings for offline lectures. The current situation is getting better, but one question still remains with controversy; has the infected students’ right to learn been guaranteed in class? The Chonnam Tribune looked into the problem to seek out ways to improve the school system so as to protect students’ right to education under such unexpected circumstances such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Student’s Right to Learn at the Discretion of Professors
Students pointed out that the school’s guidelines were focused on the method of handling attendance rather than ensuring class deficits of the students who could not take in-person classes due to a coronavirus infection. According to the guidelines, the full judgement regarding the education of those students is just left to each professor, which seems not always coherent. Some professors let the students attend their class by using Zoom or they provided pre-recorded lecture videos. However, others did not provide adequate alternatives with the students. Lee Jae-yoon, a student of the Dept. of English Language and Literature, said, “A professor said that I should just relax, but I wanted to join the class even if it was on Zoom to prepare for the exam. My attendance was checked, but it would have been much better if the lecture videos and materials were given.” Park Hye-min (Junior, School of Polymer Science and Engineering) also said, “I had taken just one out of the six classes on Zoom during the class, but the others did not give anything. Besides, I did not take a test at the beginning of the class, which was a chapter-by-chapter examination.”
As mentioned above, the school guidelines do not offer consistent and practical policies and measures that students can rely on, which makes students suffer. However, it is also difficult for professors. Jung Won-wook, an instructor in the Dept. of Geography Education, said, “It is difficult to become consistent when it comes to education because the guidelines of the Ministry of Education have been inconsistent in this unprecedented situation.” Currently, according to the guidelines of the university, class attendance is checked and classes have to provide substitute materials during the cure period. However, it is not compulsory to offer materials such as recordings of offline class to those students.
Different Types of Examination and Evaluation
What about during the midterm examinations of students in isolation because of COVID-19 infections? The situation was quite similar to classes. It also depended on the professor’s decision. On Every Time, a platform where students obtain information or express their opinions, students demanded that the school had to specify details about measures for students who were unable to take in-person examinations in its official notices. Some classes conducted exams offline and online on Zoom at the same time, but imposed some disadvantage to students taking online exams like reflecting 70 percent of the test score to their grade because of the possibility of checking textbooks during the exam. In other cases using a replacement assignment, the evaluation result of the assignment would be the final score of students without taking a midterm exam. A staff member of the Register’s Office said that “Grade evaluation is at the discretion of professors. So, the school cannot be deeply involved in that matter.” This different system has confused students, and it is also unfair that they are given such disadvantages.
Between March 16 and 20, the Student Council of the College of Humanities conducted a survey asking students about this problem. 314 out of 341 respondents answered that they have had their right to learn infringed. 89 among them pointed out the absence of alternative measures instead of taking class. Lee Young-joo, president of the Student Council, said that “This survey was aimed to inform us about students’ discomfort and to demand protection of our right to education as a student. I felt it would be hard to change the current situation because authorities passively responded to solve the problem. But, it made me grateful that some professors have tried to protect our right to learn during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Preparing Better Education System
Many students keep wondering whether there are sufficient measures to prevent the spread of the infection on campus after social distancing rules being eased since May 2. According to an official notice released by the Office of Student Affairs on April 29, preventative measures include restricting the number of private meetings and quarantining for a week in line with the government’s policy. Currently, there are hand sanitizers and also partitions that divide desks in the classrooms, but some students say there are too many students compared to the size of the classroom, and the distancing is not preserved especially in the library. Generally, they feel preventive measures are insufficient. Even though the situation is getting better now, we cannot anticipate when it will get worse again like the beginning of the semester. If diagnosed with coronavirus, students still might not be given a clear answer about their classes. That is why school authorities have to prepare a better education system.
The school should guarantee the right to learn for those students, it should try to ask about their inconveniences and make official guidelines more effective for protecting the students’ right to education. Student’s right to education is important and it should be guaranteed under any circumstances. We are in a precarious situation and the COVID-19 pandemic is predicted to break out again in the near future. The university should establish proper systems in order to ensure their right for learning. It is essential to listen carefully to student’s voices. Students know it is difficult to reform the systems immediately, but what they want is for the university to try to improve it for them from now on.
By Lee Da-hyeon, Tribune Reporter