University of Nairobi (UoN) students at the institution's library. Post graduate students are finding it difficult going about their business.

By Ashford Gikunda & Diana Ross

Never before have the postgraduate students experienced what the world is going through at the moment. The academic world is on a standstill. Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, all institutions of learning were shut indefinitely.

The University of Nairobi (UoN) was not spared either, postgraduate students who rely heavily on the library to write their thesis, especially the Literature review chapter, have been forced to think of creative ways to overcome the hurdles placed by the health pandemic.

The pandemic hit us like a thunderbolt. We were least prepared for such an eventuality of this magnitude and ignominy. The bitter reality now is the pandemic is here with us and looks like it might linger a bit. Having to write an entire project with over 50 pages without ever stepping into a library is an academic low!

It is not easy to write a thesis without the assistance of a librarian and library services. Internet robs one the wrath of intimidating books. Reading the physical book makes one respect the prestige that comes with masters.

Sitting in the library for long hours reminds one of the ‘acknowledgement page’ where we pay tributes to our spouses and children for our absence.

Necessity is the mother of invention

To overcome the challenges posed by the virus, some creative universities are conducting defenses using technology.

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Universities are making use of conference apps like Zoom, Google Meets, Skypes Google Hangout, GoToMeeting, Cisco WebEx, BlueJeans Slack, Appear.in, BigBlueButton among others to allow students to defend their theses. As we adapt technology as a way doing business, we should interrogate the merits and demerits of the same. 

The online defenses may have their own pros and cons but at least for now they are serving the purpose. Defenses are baptism by fire. The online defenses are not stoking the academic fire accurately. Something is being lost.

The defending students are denied the physical feel that comes with the defense panel. The thorough scrutiny that the panelists may accord the project proposal may lack as the panelists are way away from their respondent.

Because of the time constraint, the panelists may not have the luxury of time to conduct an in-depth critique of the presented thesis. On the other hand, the defending students lose the opportunity to react emotionally as he/she may have done under normal circumstances.

Moreover, the online defense denies members of the public a rare chance to attend and listen to the discourse that might sharpen their perspectives.

Chapter 4 of the research requires one to go out and collect data. In this period of uncertainty, this is a daunting task. The curfew imposed in the country compounded with the containment restrictions conspire to terrorize the academic researchers. COVID-19 is limiting the researchers on the respondents’ contact and the very critical aspect of the sample size.

While it is possible to prepare a digital questionnaire, there are aspects of research guidelines that may not be captured by a written questionnaire.

Qualitative research is extensive and may require large sample sizes and one-on-one interviews with the respondents.

Other methods of data collection such as participatory and observation are greatly hampered by the pandemic.

The naturalness of research under normal circumstances has been hindered to a large extent by the global pandemic.

Interactions that establish rapports and general pleasantries and now lacking. The excitement that comes with research exercise has been turned into suspicion and general apathy.

Accessibility to some places is denied due to fear of spreading the virus.

All in all, we will live to tell our stories.

Ashford Gikunda and Diana Ross are finalists’ MA students in Project Planning and Management at UoN.

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