HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS
Date : 06 April 2020
Reported by : Roslan Bin Rusly
Category : News
By 14th April 2020, the movement control order (MCO) will be one month old. That means university students who have not gone home prior to MCO, will also be ‘locked-down’ in their university campuses for one month. As voiced out by others, in the absence of academic activities and restricted social activities during this period, this would not be good for the psychological state of the students. There are already emerging evidence on this as reported in the media in Malaysia and even abroad.
Research in the United Kingdom has found the number of respondents who reported significant depression and significant anxiety has doubled after COVID-19 lockdown was announced in the country. Similar situation was also reported in Italy, leading the Italian government to launch a nationwide psychological support programme for those mentally affected by the lockdown.
In IIUM, data have shown an increasing trend in the number of students seeking counselling help during this MCO period. This involved cases of depression and anxiety among students due to various factors, including living in isolation, not being able to see their families, worry about their family well-being and concern on the impact of the lockdown on their study plans. During this MCO period, IIUM continues to provide dedicated counselling hotline exclusively for IIUM students who may need emotional and psychological support. Additionally, IIUM has also implemented various projects and activities to fill up students’ time and to soften the impacts of MCO on the mental health of students on campus. These include getting students to volunteer in projects like producing personal protective equipment for medical officers, developing medical devices for use in combatting COVID-19, online tazkirah and virtual hangouts.
Although at the moment, the students’ mental health issues in IIUM, and possibly in other universities as well, is under control, there are good reasons to be concerned that prolonged isolation and separation from families will further adversely affect the mental health of many of the students.
Being away from families due to MCO can also adversely affect parents and the family in general. It is not unexpected that parents would be worried about the well-being of their children who are still on campus over an uncertain period of lockdown. Online or through telephone communication are no substitute to soothe the feeling of having one’s child at home safely together under the circumstances. Parents have expressed the same to the University time and again. Indeed at IIUM, the University authorities have been receiving telephone calls and queries from parents during this MCO period on whether they can come over and fetch their children home, assuming they have undergone the necessary quarantine period.
In this regard, it is rational to suggest that students who are still on university campuses should be allowed to return home. Apart from the psychological viewpoint, other supporting arguments include the fact that many oversea students are allowed to return from places that have showed far worse numbers of death and also those affected as compared to home. The latest are from the US and the UK.
That said, in allowing local university students to return home, it has to be appropriately and systematically organised to observe social distance without compromise. Parents and students must exercise responsibilities and take sufficient precautionary measures to ensure travel home is safe and smooth. For a start, universities can request students to administer self-check routine several days prior to departure to their home towns. Students will also have to register at university health centres or clinics for final screening before they are finally allowed to return home. Those who, for some reasons, failed the self-check routine or the final screening at university clinics should remain in self-quarantine at university’s accommodations.
In addition, universities can prioritise those students who are picked up by parents or relatives after obtaining the necessary travel permission. For students whose parents or relatives are unable to pick them up at the campus, universities should arrange for chartered buses to transport students to major destinations (including local airports). From there, parents and students must prove that they have made arrangements for safe travel the last mile to their homes. Other precautionary measures include disinfecting the chartered buses before boarding, and students and bus drivers to wear face mask and practice good hygiene along the journeys. Students should bear the bus fares although universities may opt to subsidise. All these should be pre-planned and staggered to avoid overcrowding. Proper identification letter may need to be provided by universities so that parents and students can identify themselves to the authorities at roadblocks.
Universities must also continue to ensure the well-being of students who, for one reason or another, unable to return home and have to remain on campus during MCO period.
Finally, allowing students to return home during MCO period should not be seen as universities shirking their responsibilities of taking care of their students, but rather universities’ efforts to minimise the impacts of MCO, especially psychological ones which is more difficult to manage over a long term of their remaining studies. Undoubtedly, universities have gone the extra mile to ensure the welfare of students who stay on campus during MCO period. But in times like this, students and parents would find greatest comfort if they can be at home with their families. Home is where the heart is.
Dr. Muhammad Faris Abdullah
Director, Office for Strategy and Institutional Change
International Islamic University Malaysia