As in most cities in Spain with a high Covid19 infection rate, universities in the Campo de Gibraltar are suffering yet another stressful year due to lockdowns, perimeter closures and restrictions on freedom of movement.
This is causing anxiety and uncertainty for both teachers and students, which is seeing exam performance in decline. Unions and student associations warn that this is starting to take a serious toll.
After a difficult first term back to school, which was relegated to online learning, the University of Cádiz (UCA), which offers several degrees at the Algeciras Campus, announced that online class is here to stay – at least until Easter, and restrictions on evaluation tests will remain.
Francisco Piniella, a senior official at UCA, passed a resolution on Friday 29th of January which established that “teaching will not take place in person, but with exceptions which we indicated in the November 8th Order (experimental, rotating, practicum or similar activities), until the Easter holidays in order to provide greater certainty and to organise teaching.”
Similarly, UCA also released a statement which read “experimental practises carried our within our faculties and schools will be cancelled in all university campuses where the incidence rate is over 1,000 cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 inhabitants”.
For much of the so-called “third wave” of Covid-19, both the East and West health zones in the Campo de Gibraltar have exceeded this incidence rate.
This resolution added that “measures will be reviewed during March 22nd”, and that the course of action will be decided upon then for the rest of the term. Piniella specified that “all these measures may become more restrictive in line with the new guidelines established by the national and regional governments and health authorities”.
Second Term Will Depend Entirely on the “evolution of the pandemic”
UCA had already announced early on, at the beginning of January 2021, that exams in the Campo de Gibraltar would be carried out online (unlike other universities in Andalucía), due to the high rate of infection and mobility restrictions between different municipalities.
In relation to the foreseeable future, Francisco Piniella warned: “we will have to wait to see how the evolution of the pandemic plays out and what health regulations will be implemented”, but also pointed out that “the move to online learning was not because classrooms presented a risk, as demonstrated by the absence of infections coming from them, but in response to the restrictions on movement”.
Demoralised Students, Fear of Failure and the Digital Divide
Different student associations have been warning that students are suffering a “demotivation” and increased “fear of failure” due to these conditions, many students are spending hours of study time alone and, in many cases, the digital divide is taking its toll on those who do not have the resources to study online.
As the Student Front complained at the beginning of the term, not all university and masters students have the same resources and access to online classes, and this has resulted in a “decrease in the quality of teaching they are receiving”, and the logical fear of their results being ruined.
As for the teachers, adapting to the circumstances has not been easy for them either (with exceptions such as at the National Distance Education University, which has a centre in the region where, of course, teachers and students are used to this kind of learning).
Throughout Spain, photos and videos of students gathering in classrooms and corridors during the January examinations went viral and reopened the debate as to whether this was appropriate in times of Covid-19.
“We have always defended the maximum possible student presence at school, but not at any cost”, the Coordinator at the Representatives of Students of Public Universities (CREUP) and the Council of University of the State (CEUNE) said in a joint statement.