The Covid-19 Pandemic forced youth all over the world to embrace online classes. In the Indian context, online classes have been a reality for more than a year, and their end does not seem to be near. This time has been marked by protests in universities all over the country for the phased reopening of campuses, disbursal of scholarships, lowering fees, and against administrative apathy. In the last two months, Delhi University, Ambedkar University, Indian Institute Of Mass Communication, Jawaharlal Nehru University, and many other universities have seen these protests.
IIMC students protesting for campus reopening and immediate disbursal of scholarships.
Online classes are a prominent feature of the NEP, which advocates blended mode (online + offline classes for a course) and correspondence courses. However, the experience of online classes in the pandemic, where it is a necessity, has been a complete disaster which raises questions about the NEP’s implementation of the same.
Here are 5 reasons why online classes are not working:
Online classes have a detrimental effect on students physically and mentally.
Attending online classes all day, for 5 hours or more every day has a lot of detrimental effects. The obvious physical health implication is a heavy strain on the eyesight, while also affecting the mental health of the student who does not get the interactive nature of the classes.
In many cases, university administration and some teachers have been unsympathetic to these woes of the students. One such incident comes from the winter semester of 2020, where students from Jesus And Mary College spoke out against having 6-7 hours of classes every day and asked for fewer classes. The administration’s response was to just give them a one-hour break per day without reducing the total time of the classes.
The pandemic has robbed many of the opportunity to experience college life.
For many students, the university campus is a space to grow, learn, and make friends. It’s an environment conducive to learning and where students take their first steps of adulthood. Online classes have robbed every student of this experience.
Navneet Kaur, a student from Lady Sriram College, explains the effect this has had on her. She says “Online classes have taken a big toll on my health and productivity. I feel my enthusiasm for things, especially my college and course has decreased a lot. Online classes have never been something I advocate for, considering how it robs me and every one of the on-ground experiences of learning and the aesthetic beauty of being in your own college and making friends.
Technically, it has been even more difficult considering the Internet speed struggles people like me from small cities have to face. I almost feel as if our individual efforts of making it to our preferred or dream colleges have gone to waste as we can’t live in that space. Online education is something that I hate the most, considering how it has added to only wrongs and woes. I hope the universities understand this and colleges open soon.”
Many students do not have the resources to access online classes.
Online classes require a lot of infrastructure from the side of the students, such as laptops, phones, a working internet connection, etc. Many students studying in universities do not have access to these resources and were not given any help from the government or the university administration except for a few exceptions. In Jadavpur University, the administration, teachers, and students came together to fund smartphones and data packs for around 800 students.
In many cases, university students took up the initiative to raise funds for their peers. One such example is St. Stephens where students started a massive fundraiser to fund underprivileged students.
These student-run endeavours can only do so much without any help from the government to make online classes work. The government has not been able to disburse scholarships to students who need them, pushing many students out of education. Cases of students dying by suicide because they could not pay their fees or access electronic devices were widespread in the pandemic.
One must understand that these problems intersect each other, with the other effects of online classes more gravely affecting some other than others. Kashvi, a Delhi University student who has been working with others to make study notes and readings for those who aren’t able to attend online classes explains this.
“The issue with what we were trying to do was that ultimately, there was a fall in morale and people stopped reaching out to us altogether. We had circulated messages asking for people to reach out if they needed help. The thing is, if people did not have internet altogether, they couldn’t reach out at all.”
On the impact of virtual learning on students, she says, “It’s not the same (as compared to normal classes). Discussions are not the same. There are no lively debates. It’s just not possible.”
The negative impacts of online learning are not restricted to the students but have also had an impact on the teaching community. Professor Abha Dev Habib, teaching at Miranda House, explains her experience. She says. “I feel totally crushed with work, without seeing the output, or enjoying it.”
“A teacher is a performer in many ways. We look at the class, we look at the student’s faces. In the classroom, we improvise by looking at the feedback which we get from the students when we are teaching. Aap kuch bolte ho, student ko acha nahi lagta, uska body language change hota hai, usse aap apne lecture ko tweak karte rehte ho (you say something and you can tell whether the student does not like it allowing you to tweak your lecture). The students lead the lecture.”
She explains how this is different in online classes. “Because of bandwidth issues or space where students are sitting in. Some students might not have devices and the space at home where they are sitting and attending class is different for everyone. When we are teaching in a classroom, there is an equal environment for all students. Now, the house is coming into your lecture.”
She rues that the professors are feeling “completely lost” as their scope to interact and bond with their students has been completely dissipated by online classes.
Professor Abha Dev Habib, who touched on this issue for students, also explains how it has affected her as a professor. She points out that there is no dichotomy between home and work, and instead of a fixed time for work, professors have had to take on an increased staggered workload throughout the year. This includes exam invigilations, checking papers while also having to take classes on the same day, and so on.
She points out that this has left no time for personal work, be it recreational or other academic work, as in many cases, professors have to work throughout the day at different intervals.
All of these issues have led to demotivation of the students as well as many professors, with the quality of learning in online education also being much lower than classroom learning. With no end in sight and a government hell-bent on making online education a reality, the future of education seems bleak.
The neo-liberal agenda of the NEP to commodify education loses out on the very point of academia. The vigour and learning will be lost, and those having to opt for the correspondence courses will eventually be those who are marginalized, furthering the BJP-RSS agenda of destroying critical thinking in education.