The student community in the Kashmir Valley has always been unfortunate. They suffer from academic loss almost every year due to unfavourable academic atmosphere in the Valley. From the past many years, their academic calendar has got disrupted by strikes, curfews, bandhs and other likely unfavourable conditions, which adversely affects the studies of students and, in turn, badly impacts their career-building process.
During the current academic session, all educational institutions were vigorously reopened after winter vacations and students enthusiastically joined their classes to study and learn. But not more than a month had passed and the concerned authorities closed down all educational institutions due to the prevailing pandemic situation in the Valley. As we are aware of the fact that the only way to restrain the spreading of the present pandemic is through social isolation and by staying at home, the government authorities found it necessary to announce a complete lockdown in the Valley. Hence, all government offices and educational institutions were unwillingly closed.
In this critical situation, we need to check the further academic loss of our students and, along with our government authorities, try to help our student community in order to minimise their loss. In this regard, the concerned authorities tried replacing the actual teaching-learning process with virtual methods. Even though virtual methods can never replace classroom teaching, they can be of great use during this pandemic, as we are not left with any other options.
Teachers in the Valley are using various platforms to teach and guide their students through the use of online classes on Google Classroom, WhatsApp groups, online audiovisual lectures on Zoom Cloud Meetings, telephonic counselling, and other methods. Google Classroom is a platform to streamline the process of sharing files between teachers and students. It helps in distributing and grading assignments in a paperless way. However, since it can’t help us deliver our lectures online, it is not very beneficial to our students with lower grades.
Though Zoom provides free video classes and online chat with up to a 100 participants, it has many security and privacy issues. Since its launch in 2013, its software products have faced public and media scrutiny related to poor information privacy practices and computer security vulnerabilities. Besides, Zoom needs high-speed internet facility and our Valley is sans 4G internet service for the past eight months. Thus, alternatives to these two approaches are online lectures available on YouTube and using television as a media for conducting online classes.
Students can use YouTube for studying during the pandemic as lectures on almost every topic are available on YouTube, and are uploaded by professional experts. Our worthy teachers can also upload their lectures on YouTube to help the student community. Students can later clear their doubts from their teachers through telephonic calls. Besides, there is time flexibility for students in this approach as they can watch the lectures at their convenient time.
The concerned authorities can also take a great advantage from television communication in the present scenario. They should telecast online classes on television sets as it has the maximum reach in our Valley, without depending on internet connectivity. Students can also take help from their teachers on telephonic calls and messaging services and thus clear their doubts. WhatsApp can also be helpful in the present academic challenges. Teachers can share study material and assignments among their students through WhatsApp groups and initiate group discussions on different topics.
The government authorities and our worthy teachers are using various virtual methods to help our students in the present situation. Though some of the students may not get the benefit from these methods and approaches due to non-availability of latest gadgets and inaccessibility to internet services, at least it could prove to be helpful to some of them. We can’t reach each and every student through a single approach, but can be helpful to most of them through different ways and means.
Besides government authorities and teachers, it is the responsibility of each and every individual in our society to help the student community at their own level and capability. We, as responsible citizens of our society, should not be critics of these alternate and virtual methods of teaching, but rather encourage and help them. We all should fight collectively against the challenges faced by our academic scenario in the present lockdown situation.
About the author: The author teaches Geography at GDC, Kulgam. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org