Trigger Warning: Mention of Covid trauma, death
“The night before my internal, my 29-year-old brother tested Covid positive. The next morning, and 2 hours before my test, his oxygen levels dropped and we needed to rush him to the hospital. After 28 hours of excruciating trauma, his condition stabilised. When I returned home the next day asking for a re-test, I was denied by my professor. He says I should’ve informed before the test- how could one be so insensitive?” says Pooja Varier, 20.
On 23rd April 2021, India registered the world’s highest single-day spike with 3,32,730 fresh Covid-19 new cases, pushing the overall caseload to 1,62,63,695, according to the data provided by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on Friday morning.
Despite a second and deadlier wave of the pandemic sweeping across the country affecting close family and friends, students across universities and schools in India are being expected to attend online classes, write tests, work on research papers, conduct online events. Already neglected and bearing the brunt of the pandemic’s short term and long-term effects in terms of career opportunities, job security, students are experiencing heightened levels of stress induced by an uncertain future.
Do students exist in a bubble- isolated from the grim realities such as understaffed hospitals, unequipped medical infrastructure and the overflowing crematoriums? Are students not affected by the state of affairs in our country? While even corporate workplaces display a basic decent amount of empathy, students are being expected to compartmentalise, shut the noise out and conduct their business as usual.
“My classmates and I have been repeatedly requesting our professors and college administration to decrease the duration of lectures and ease extensions for assignment deadlines. However, they said that portion has to be completed, and internal marks have to be submitted. Nothing can be done,” says Iram Shenoi, 19.
Many students themselves are suffering from Covid, or have family in critical condition and are additionally struggling to balance a huge pile of assignments and their crippling mental health.
Samuel Jacob, 20 said, “My whole family including myself, was infected with Covid. My Amamma(grandmother) passed away last week due to the same, and 2 hours post the service, I had to write my Electronics internals. The professors said they are helpless and the university demands that the internals be conducted- so while my family mourned, I logged into Google Classrooms.”
My bestfriend's uncle died and his entire family was crying in the living room while he sat there in his room writing an end sem paper. The level of apathy in colleges is unreal
— Some rando Jaan met on twt (@cozierhoezier) April 23, 2021
How can administrations and academicians be so insensitive and indifferent towards the plight of struggling students? We understand that the teaching and administrative staff are also subject to the same devastating atmosphere. But our personal and close experience with Covid too does not give us a pass to use apathy as an excuse.
called my professor to ask of I could give exams later due to Covid situation at home, she explained how both her parents are admitted and college still asked her to conduct classes, she's still conducting it. The pandemic is nothing to the Indian education system.
— s (@yoongienthusias) April 23, 2021
As if the stress of having to deal with multiple assignment deadlines and online classes was not enough, universities across India have released date sheets for end-semester examinations. While social media and newspapers are filled with graphic images of people begging for ventilators and drugs, the mental stress of being productive each day, preparing for examinations, and appearing for them is beyond imaginable for most students.
“I open my textbooks and arrange all my stationery thinking that today is the day I will make notes, be productive and study as I did before. But I cannot stop thinking about it- all the cries for help on social media, close friends begging for contacts to obtain medicines and hospital beds. And it does not help that students have to do the government’s job by curating helpline numbers and verifying contacts for covid resource,” says Mukund Bharadwaj, 20.
Understandably, students have to be assessed against some parameters to clear a course- it is unreasonable to have regular examinations via the online mode for various reasons.
In the given context, almost every individual is aware of someone in their immediate circle who is Covid positive. Unlike the previous semester examination where close family testing positive was a one-off case- this time it is dreadfully common. So, to argue that exams can be conducted just as they were in the previous semester is borne of ignorance and an utter disregard for changed circumstances.
“My father had Covid and is critical. How do you expect me to appear for a test in this circumstance?” shared a student from Hyderabad University who chose to remain anonymous.
— Asarar Ahamad (@AshiUPCC) April 19, 2021
Further, such adversities disproportionately affect individuals of certain socio-economic background, and that includes students too! Unfortunately for the Indian masses, unlike the privileged elite, the struggle is not limited to mental health. The financial burden of the Covid battle is one too heavy for several students across India, who are at the risk of dropping out. Many have lost their parents, guardians, or are incurring huge hospital bills in lakhs.
Yogita, a first-year student of Delhi University wrote in a detailed message, “My mother has tested Covid positive and is hospitalised in a private institution, she is in critical condition. My father works as a private driver and we are unable to clear our medical loans due to our existing financial circumstances. My family and I require 4 lakhs to afford my mother’s treatment, please contribute any amount you can.”
Yogita is one of the thousands of students who have been so closely impacted by the pandemic– do we expect them to side-line the situation at home to complete assignments and appear for examinations?
And unlike the previous semester- keeping an offline mode option for the examinations is no longer viable since it would directly endanger student lives. In a situation where offline examinations cannot be conducted and a deadly disease is claiming the lives of so many- what message are we sending across to students who lack the digital infrastructure to appear for these exams in the current context?
In dystopian times like these, it is most important to ensure mental and physical well-being.
If your argument against easing of deadlines and cancellation of exams is “the show must go on”, then you’re directly contributing to a system that values productivity over human life and well being.
To assume that students coming from pandemic struck families, struggling to pay medical bills and afford vaccines have the environment at home sit for 6 hour-long lectures every day, appear for examinations, and have a fair chance at a future- is extremely elitist and apathetic, to say the least. And to say that there are no alternatives is a lazy excuse.