Eight months since the centre imposed a nationwide lockdown to contain the global pandemic, the uncertainties of college students regarding their results and career do not seem to diminish. This once in a century outbreak has not only kept them away from the place that they had been accustomed to going every morning since the age of 4-5 but has also compelled them to stare at their smartphone and laptop screens for hours.
Although there was no other alternative to prevent students from losing the year when the pandemic broke out, continuing with it for such a long time despite several reports highlighting its inherent flaws and inefficacies, calls for serious intervention from authorities. Proper precautionary measures need to be set up in accordance with UGC guidelines released recently for reopening of universities.
“I have been attending online classes for 6 months and I just don’t want to do it anymore. I miss the good old days of offline classes”, says Nitish Jaiswal, an MCA student of Chandigarh University when asked about the decision of Punjab and Karnataka government to reopen colleges for final year students as well as postgraduate and research students of technical courses and whether students will attend offline classes if given an option or will continue with the online mode.
As the government has allowed almost all the sectors of the economy to reopen bringing back life to ‘new normal’ and UGC has also left it up to the discretion of heads of institutions (in centrally funded institutions) and respective state governments (for state universities and private ones) to resume offline classes, their complacency towards bringing the teaching-learning experience to the physical mode needs serious attention, else, the students will end up unemployed even if they complete their ‘education’ online.
This is so because colleges do much more than impart bookish concepts; they groom naive minds of teenagers into scientific and rational humans besides developing their vocations through several societies and fests.
The pretext of the government’s commitment to prioritizing the life of students over studies does not resonate with its actions.
The outright defiance of social distancing norms in the recently concluded Bihar elections and the subsequent victory celebrations at the BJP headquarters in the national capital, in the presence of the honourable Prime Minister of India, is a testimony to the ‘commitment’ of government towards minimizing COVID-19 infections and life.
“The current pandemic surely has taken a toll on different tiers of education. The biggest problem was the shifting of teaching pedagogy from conventional to online and electronic methods which surely was the need of the hour but didn’t benefit all students because of the already existing socio-economic inequalities. I am personally suffering from very poor internet connectivity in our area and so I am not able to attend classes regularly”, says Sharique Azmi, a 3rd-year student, studying Geology at Aligarh Muslim University.
A recently conducted field survey by the Azim Premji University titled, Myths of Online Education revealed that more than 60% of the respondents enrolled in a government school, across 26 districts of 5 states chosen for the study, could not access online education. This corroborates the agony of thousands of students throughout the country who are unable to access online lectures either due to fluctuating internet connectivity, lack of smartphones, poor electricity supply and personal space for attending these classes from home.
Another survey by the National Statistical Office (NSO) conducted between July 2017 to June 2018 noted that on an average, only 24% of Indian homes had an internet connection, while the relative figure for the rural homes dipped to 15%.
Expecting the government to bridge the glaring digital divide by providing undisrupted internet connectivity and data to the unprivileged and marginalized students coming from the countryside would not only be unrealistic but also ironic in a country which is technically in recession and has failed to provide two square meals a day to lakhs of its citizens as revealed by its rank, 94, in a list of 107 countries (even behind Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh) in Global Hunger Report 2020.
Another student, Siddharth Singh, pursuing masters from the University of Delhi says, “Scientists have stressed on the fact that COVID-19 is here to stay for a long time. People need to continue their work with the utmost precautions. If colleges open, I will be definitely attending the classes as the online mode is not as satisfactory as the offline one for me. We need to gear up ourselves for the ‘new normal’.”
Since the COVID-19 vaccine is unlikely to come before spring as Drugmaker Moderna pointed out recently and the government has denied declaring this a zero academic year, the student community hopes to attend offline classes soon with proper precautionary measures in place.