The coronavirus pandemic has inevitably upended our whole way of life, wreaking havoc in its wake. Notwithstanding, it seems that we have been mostly successful in our scramble to adapt to this new, unprecedented situation, even if we have been dragged, kicking, and screaming into this new world order. Who would have said up until a few weeks ago, that we would all have to relearn the rules of how we work, interact, play and study?
Ah… study! The concerted effort by our educators to teach our students, on almost every level of the system has been largely successful, despite this being an unanticipated circumstance for which the same educators had little or no preparation. Kudos to our educators who despite the challenges have mostly managed to come up trumps! But let’s not digress…
It seems that trouble is brewing over at Tal-Qroqq where our most learned intellectuals are in charge of our country’s young minds, the movers and shakers of tomorrow. In a parallel universe inhabited by the Faculty of Laws it seems that the threat of a pandemic and all the changes this has brought about have not reached the hallowed halls of the faculty and least of all the Dean.
The fact that the University of Malta functions very much like the Vatican, a state within a state, which abides by its own rules and answers to no one is common knowledge, but now when Law students are just a few weeks away from their end of year examinations, under the added pressure of having to cope with the very real threat of a pandemic, the level of turmoil within this same faculty is frankly, unacceptable. When the Minister of Education (who usually wouldn’t dare lock horns even with the university’s stray cats) intervenes, then it must be really, really bad…
In a press release published earlier this week, student organisation GħSL complained that, “the Faculty of Laws has decided against all reason to impose take home online exams to students for their subjects. This has been decided notwithstanding there being heavy opposition from the respective student organisations who all pushed for assignments; no justifying reasons have been provided as to why this has been decided.”
In any other circumstance, these complaints might well be ignored, with people thinking that these are just ‘students being students’, but these protestations are well justified and not a case of the students ‘stamping their feet and dictating’ as crudely dismissed by the Dean of the faculty, Ivan Mifsud. But let us count the ways why these ‘take home online exams’ do not make sense, to say nothing of the unnecessary and disproportionate burden this imposes on every single student in the current climate.
To state that the students have not been receiving adequate online lectures on their subjects would be an understatement. While other faculties were invariably forging ahead, successfully overcoming expected early teething problems with regard to logistics, the faculty of laws has remained twiddling its thumbs ever since the closing of University on the 11th of March, only coming out of its stupor in the past few days. To add insult to injury, 600+ students are now being forced to sit for exams which the faculty has sufficiently failed to prepare them for.
All this without going into the sheer upheaval studying from home has caused for students. One might point out that this is a situation that is the same across the board; after all, all students are studying from home, which is very well the case. However, the law students’ learning environment somewhat requires quite different conditions, for example the constant access to a physical library to conduct research, which makes up a huge part of the learning process. It is also shocking that the Dean has totally disregarded the very issue of students being forced to stay indoors, with the inevitable stress this brings about.
It is also worth noting that not all students have an adequate studying space at home, where they can study in peace, homes which are now being shared with siblings and parents 24/7. It is even more imperative to note that not all students have the luxury of living in villas, some live with family in exceedingly small homes. When everyone, his brother and their dog is trying their best to avoid burdening students with any undue or unnecessary stress, Ivan Mifsud bulldozes on with little or no regard whatsoever to the fact that there’s a pandemic going on and what was normal and expected yesterday is now no longer.
And yet alternatives to ‘take home online exams’ in the assessment of students exist. After appropriate student polling, GħSL has proposed a detailed report on how assignments can be adopted in order to create a proportionate balance between a diligent assessment method and empathetic examination conditions. Following this proposal, a group of student representatives were meant to vote on the matter together with the Dean and the Heads of Departments. However, they were unexpectedly stripped from their voting rights and a decision was taken without them to assess the students in an unprecedented ‘take-home online exam’ format.
What is the Faculty of Law, a dictatorship? Why dismiss the students’ legitimate concerns, especially during such an appalling crisis? Why overburden the students with unnecessary stress, especially when there are viable and equally worthy means of assessing their capabilities? Or is it simply a case of ‘Maltese Dean = God or thinks he is’ as one commentator so eloquently put it?