The recent and sudden disruption in the functioning of the regular education system due to the unprecedented public health emergency, has started discussions across academia about how to carry on. The discontinuity in the delivery of education is the core issue being deliberated upon, to find out possible solutions to utilise this period when students have had to rush back to their homes.
The requirement of physical distancing among human beings, referred to as ‘social distancing’, has necessitated this situation in the whole of academia at every level. Both students and the academic institutions themselves have been in a state of unpreparedness to handle the implications of the coronavirus pandemic.
Signs of Concern Among Students About to Graduate
It is evident that the primary and secondary education system has largely finished its academic session, and the activities that are left – if any – can be completed after the restoration of activities in the respective institutions. The higher education system, being majorly responsible for the terminal education to create the human resource ready for serving the society, is embedded with a stringent academic schedule, and higher education institutions (HEIs) have reason to feel concerned about this disruption.
Signs of worry are primarily visible in the students expecting to graduate in this ongoing session, as the fulfilment of all requirements of course completion is time-dependant and adhere to the predeclared academic calendar.
Issues Teachers Must Address Before Taking Online Lessons
For some time now, there’s been a buzz around availability of online reading material and online classes. In spite of the various digital learning platforms successfully developed in the country to supplement the classroom process, the replacement of the regular teaching for some portion of the curriculum in this period of lockdown warrants due consideration of the following major issues before venturing into off-campus digital interaction:
- Do all students have digital connectivity?
- Do the digital connections available to them at their respective locations have ample capability to handle the digital interaction?
- Do all students have ample resources – writing instruments etc – to complete their tasks?
- Will all students be able to understand and imbibe the online lessons?
- Have all students agreed to participate in the off-campus distance learning mode?
- Do all teachers have adequate digital infrastructure to carry out the online lessons?
- Do all teachers have adequate learning material with them at their homes to share with the students?
- Has the teaching community assessed the quality and extent of learning among the students through online means?
Sharing of Study Material & Other Priorities For Students
Undoubtedly, there could be many more questions concerning the students, teachers, e-learning platform with the institution, digital connectivity, quality of education, geographical location, etc, which may need a favourable response before deciding to replace the regular classroom teaching with the contemplated off-campus teaching to complete lessons. It is always possible to remodel the academic calendar and run exhaustive contact-type classes and make students learn in the conventional mode upon the reopening of the institution.
Academic institutions can capitalise on the cushion period of summer vacations to minimise the impact of the rescheduling, and try to maintain the forthcoming academic session.
Seeing the demography, socio-economic conditions, availability of basic resources, infrastructure, etc, it is inescapable on the part of academia to carry out the feasibility study of any proposition to replace the contact type teaching with non-contact type teaching due to something unanticipated. The sharing of study material with the students, to provide them the opportunity of self-oriented learning by the interested ones, need to be encouraged. Such sharing of the study material will keep students engaged with their studies, if it is permissible for them under the prevailing circumstances and help in using their leisure time.
Online Teaching Must Not Come At the Cost of Quality Education
Alternatively, the students at home can also be encouraged to hone their soft skills for overall personality development to enhance employability for which time is not usually available along with regular studies while on campus. Irrespective of the robust online digital education platform of any higher education institute, its utility for off-campus education will largely depend upon the access and quality of internet facilities and communication devices.
The off-campus teaching-learning should not be fascinating to academia at the cost of the quality of education, and should be viewed in the context that a student learns a particular subject once in his/her lifetime as part of the formal teaching-learning process. Therefore, the extent of learning in every subject is of equal relevance from the academic perspective. The abrupt unsettling of ongoing academic activities on campuses due to the global pandemic should not allow for the deterioration of the quality of education, which may have long-lasting implications.
(Dr. Onkar Singh is the Founder Vice Chancellor of Madan Mohan Malaviya University of Technology, Gorakhpur (UP) & Ex VC, UPTU, Lucknow (U.P.). This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)