It seemed like an uneventful Monday morning in class last week when, all of a sudden, we noticed a certain burning smell. Soon we realised that it was teargas so we lost no time in getting outside to the fresh air until the gas gradually dispersed.
The police are prone to resort to using teargas when they have a crowd control issue. Sure enough, we discovered that there had been a demonstration at the nearby University Office which had provoked the firing of the teargas. The students were demonstrating to protest against online learning.
Why should online learning cause an angry demonstration? The University, like many others around the world, took a decision to deliver its teaching online as a measure that might help to contain the spread of covid-19. This, however, presented a difficulty to many of the students who did not have means to easily access the internet. Lecturers noticed that the students joining their classes online were far fewer than those who would have come to class. They also learned that many students were crowding round a single device, thus creating the kind of conditions where covid can easily spread and making the whole exercise rather counterproductive.
Covid-19 has exposed the inequality of our current world order. One way this takes effect is through the “digital divide” that allows citizens of affluent countries to enjoy the benefits of internet access while in less-resourced countries most people are to a great extent excluded. Malawi is a case in point since most people have less disposable income than their counterparts elsewhere yet the costs of internet access are higher than average.
We might hope that Covid-19 could be a wake-up call to address such issues. Incredibly, however, the UK has decided at this moment to drastically reduce its international aid budget. Every British citizen should hang their head in shame. If ever there was a time for global solidarity and generosity on the part of the better-off, this is it. Is it too late for more far-seeing counsels to prevail?