With regards to the current situation, a new debate which neither the students nor the college administration ever thought would be discussed has awakened like flames capturing the attention of the whole nation. Divided by coloured zones and united by a worldwide pandemic, the student population, today, is just scared.
As the world went into a lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is now a ‘new’ normal, that us humans are supposed to accept. Them being: social distancing, a mask on, washing your hands almost double the amount of what you used to before and not to forget, work from home, that is attending meetings with the background noise as your siblings. While a lot of us have adjusted to or at least are trying to, the biggest change experienced in this normal is online classes held by schools and colleges. Educational systems after the nationwide lockdown have shut down and still are not in the radius of opening anytime soon. With no option ascertained and a resolution to not let the pandemic affect the education of students, the system decided to move towards the digital domain directly from the traditional education system, that is, almost all universities and schools have started what you call the virtual semester and online classes.
The use of technology isn’t new to the Gen Z. From growing up with computers, moving towards tablets and laptops, holding the best smartphone in our hands, we have had it all. From using computers in well equipped computer labs, to sitting in front of smart boards, learning about gravitational force and the Heliocentric Model, technology has always been there for us, well at least most of us. In fact, having a laptop is still considered a privilege in innumerable households. That is the difference in education that has been prevalent in both urban and rural areas. While a majority of urban class schools have had access to these simple things, the schools in some other areas, including the so called metropolitan cities, barely have electricity, water or even teachers.
According to the National Sample Survey, only 24% of Indian households have an internet facility. Heeding to the need of the hour and an unprecedented change, the school administrations have been advised to take lectures through virtual communication on different platforms. Some schools and universities are also offering training sessions for teachers to learn about the virtual world. On the other hand, not everyone is offered such a training and are left to learn everything on their own along with the reality of unpaid salaries being the elephant in the room. Moreover, in the absence of physical classrooms and proper digital infrastructure, both teachers and students are facing unfamiliar challenges. The old school teachers are battling with extreme discomfort while learning these new methods in addition to the inappropriate behaviour of students which has grown recently in the likelihood of online semesters and is something we should be worried about.
While digital learning has been the modus operandi of schools and universities in the past, the virtual classroom is not affordable for everyone, pertaining to the fact that dropout rates of students, especially the girl child are significantly high and are rising just every day. With screen time increasing everyday for both the teachers and students, salary deduction and lay -offs of the staff, the aforementioned virtual semester has become a question of survival for stakeholders involved in it.
The dilemma of JEE/NEET has become a piece of national news with few people wanting to get over exams and making it a political issue in the course while others are fearing about the mental health of students who are supposed to give exams in between a worldwide pandemic. The exam season which is normally stressful for students, in regard to just the fear of studying to give these exams but now the criteria of fear has changed for both the students and teachers as the areas they live in either are divided by colour of zones or considering merely the fear of transmission.
Furthermore, many students particularly in government universities come from an economically lower background. Therefore, high speed internet, laptops or smartphones are a luxury to them. These are the students who spend days in the library to make notes because new books cannot be easily bought. While online exams do save resources and time, the possibility of using unfair means are highly likely in this mode. And although offline examinations require much more engagement from authorities and students, generalizing a method to all students when all of them come from different states and backgrounds is unjust and arbitrary. Moreover, to support the education system in the best way possible, the telecom operators are providing services with better internet packages including good speed and low cost. But with a digital divide that is evident across class, gender and region, there isn’t much which can be helped with. Among the poorest 20% households, only 2.7% have access to a computer and 8.9% to internet facilities. This trend is worse with stark differences in Jammu and Kashmir using 2G internet. As the virtual semester is now a real scenario, and online education has become a necessity without significant supportive measures, the prevailing disparity and inequality are forming a huge gap in the system.
School is a safe space for students. The purpose of going to school isn’t just to acquire academic knowledge of subjects, but it also includes cognitive learning, socio-emotional aspects of behavior and most importantly overall development of a child. In the current scenario, where the only interaction kids have with teachers and peers is through screens, the scope to learn and unlearn things with everyday experiences in the classroom is now limited as online classes hardly touch upon these issues.
To conclude, our children have adapted to digital modules of learning yet the gap is evident, for not everybody has got the opportunity to do so. However, with the New Education Policy, better bandwidth and reduced syllabus many schools are putting up their best front forward and are trying to make it easier for students and teachers to blend in the system. But with the crisis nowhere to the end, the system has to think of something solid with utmost urgency to bridge the gap between this dysfunctional tradition and enhance the experience of those who are unfortunate and deprived of real education in virtual classrooms.
Aashita Batra is a student pursuing Psychology from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Varda Ahmad
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.