[ Nellie N Manpoong ]
Students across the country breathed a sigh of relief when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the nationwide lockdown would come into effect from 25 March due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. It not only made up for the missed classes and assignments of the less enthusiastic student, but gave the toppers of the class additional time to catch up on their studies.
Soon enough, live, interactive classes were being replaced with online modes of teaching. Teachers in schools, colleges and universities began using whatever online platforms they had at their disposal, such as e-mails, WhatsApp, and Zoom and Google classrooms.
While the educators have the best interest of their students in mind, the reality of poor connectivity in a state like Arunachal is undeniable and cannot be sidelined by those in authority to make the decision of forcing online classes on students-some of whom do not have smart phones or laptops.
Most school teachers and college professors have admitted that they do not prefer the online mode of teaching, which by and large defeats the purpose of setting up an institution to receive real education, but as some put it: “We are utilising it so that students remain engaged in productive activities and do not detach themselves from the syllabus.”
A Physics teacher, who has been conducting online classes, says “Even the network in the capital is horrible. How will one reach students in interior villages where one cannot access internet at all? Online classes look fancy to write about on social media, but it is difficult to teach, as well as understand.”
While he does want to get back to taking classes in his school, he also raised concern over the CBSE dates for class 10 and 12 pending examinations that have been scheduled to be held from 1 to 15 July.
“Why do we need to put everyone in danger? Who will take the blame if something happens?” he says.
Parents also do not seem overjoyed with this new announcement of the ministry of human resources development, and have questioned the health risks attached to it.
An assistant professor in the North Eastern Regional Institute of Science and Technology (NERIST) informed that they have Google Classroom and YouTube for recorded sessions, and Zoom or Microsoft team for live sessions.
“Personally, I don’t prefer online classes as the students have various difficulties to be available online. I prefer uploading online teaching materials and proceed based on their comments,” the assistant professor said.
Professors and assistant professors at the Rajiv Gandhi University (RGU) too have encountered several such difficulties in being online themselves, and have had to cancel several online classes.
While the RGU has released a tentative academic calendar and announced that examinations will be held from 13 July, the NERIST is set to conduct end-semester examinations through online mode (Zoom platform or Microsoft Team) from 15 to 29 June.
Notably, the NERIST will be conducting examinations for only 50 marks per paper if mid-semester examinations have been held, or cut out papers for 80 marks. The RGU is yet to provide details on how it intends on conducting the examinations.
While there have been some difficulties in attending video conferencing classes, the educators have made it a point to send out notes, which the students opine, “cannot make up for interactive classes.”
Even as a student of the NERIST spoke of his preparedness to appear for the June-scheduled examination, he said that examinations held without interactive classes would not be a true test of their potential but a test of their memory. He also expressed apprehension on the connectivity issues and said that those in remote areas will suffer and they might have to manage an alternative.
On the RGU’s notification for students to fill up examination forms as well as appear for examinations within a fortnight of class resumption, a student of the RGU said, “They expect us to write exams with not enough classes. They are just rushing things. Other universities, like the Gauhati University have decided to continue the even semester from August, and I don’t think online exams are practical.”
Another opined: “If the condition gets better, I think exams should be held. Otherwise we are going to be way behind in terms of annual schedule. But who is to say it will get better? Exams should not be held if the situation gets worse.”
On whether the notes shared online would make up for the teaching-learning process, another student flatly said, “No! They cannot expect us to do well without us understanding anything.”
An out-station student currently in Assam said, “On one hand we do need these online classes to cover the syllabus, and on the other hand, I cannot even receive a call, let alone access the internet. Also, if the university decides to take the examinations offline we will have to rush there, which my parents do not find comforting.”
“According to me, they (out-station students) should not be allowed to come. It will just increase the risk of more infection even here,” said another RGU student.
Educational institutes here have several students from neighbouring states, such as Assam, Manipur and Tripura, which are reporting increasing rates of Covid-19 positive cases.
Can the government guarantee that using sanitizers and masks will shield students from the potential threat of Covid-19? Have they taken into account the after classes, or after-examination scenario?
Education is and will always be a priority for Indians, but online classes can never replace the classroom teaching-learning process. Schools, colleges and universities are not only places to acquire education, but also meeting points for different minds that help develop different perspectives on life and even gain knowledge not listed in our syllabi.
Need we remind ourselves that some old-school ways can never be replaced with the new normal?