Since COVID-19 has significantly disrupted the education sphere across schools and colleges, online education and virtual learning has come to the rescue. The nationwide lockdown, enforced to minimize the spread of the virus, led to a huge loss of learning time and experience for the students. Applications such as Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, etc are being used for online teaching since the new semesters have resumed in colleges across the nation.
An educational institute in a metropolitan city serves as a unifying environment for students from diverse backgrounds to collectively learn. However, pandemic has stagnated the traditional means of classroom learning and shifting to online resources seemed like the next best alternative. Another implicit belief that in 2020 everyone should be in sync with modern technology and the lack of technical acumen is archaic has led to teachers and professors anxiously struggling with the technicalities of applications.
The disadvantaged suffer
One of the glaring wide chasm that needs to be addressed by authorities is the gap between existent technology and its lack of access to disadvantaged students. A lot of students are unable to participate in virtual lectures because of lack of access to computers, mobile phones and functional internet.
Students from underprivileged backgrounds have to bear the brunt of social chasm that education is supposed to equalize. However, the challenges faced by students are not of dichotomous nature between haves and have-nots; there are of differing degrees of access. Many are rendered incapable of fully participating in lectures due to a lack of a supportive home environment. Students may not live in a stable political or social environment. Some have the burden of house chores or have limited resources, or reside in areas where electricity or the network operates intermittently. Some students may not be able to afford internet packages to attend 6 hours of online lectures. In the face of such common yet debilitating problems, authorities should consider providing needy students with resources.
The challenges of online learning
For the underprivileged working class, deprivation is a common strain, while the expectations of learning for students who do have access isn’t coming to fruition entirely. 5-6 hours of continuous screen exposure is damaging for the eyesight while also depleting the attention span of students. Perpetual headache, loss of appetite, tiredness are routinely reported as a significant side effect of online classes. The students who are supposed to intern or work online for the competitive demands of carving an incredible resume are struggling to balance everything together.
Another terrible facet of online learning has been many reported cases of cyberbullying and hacking into classroom meetings, leaving teachers traumatised. Cyberbullying not only leaves witnesses disgusted but also implicitly encourages other students to mock, bully and wreak havoc for professors later on. It degrades the quality of coming classes and leaves the victims disturbed.
While individual students have their own dilemmas and challenges, there are running themes which are similar across the board. Campus Beat reached out and talked to students and teacher.
“Now that it is online, professors are uploading recorded lectures and I can watch them anytime at my own pace so I am learning more thoroughly now, whereas before I just used to pass by. The discussions with friends aren’t there, group study sessions and things like that. I used to live in a hostel so that was a big part of learning.”Sumit Ghosh, a fifth year student of Computer Science at IIT Delhi
“Online learning has been great till now as we never previously exploited the digital space as now. However, the remote corners of India where internet connectivity is poor it’s difficult for their education and this is a major loophole. We could afford online learning and our college has the infrastructure available for it but for the people not everybody has the privilege to attend 6 hours of class every day. Online learning is a boon for you if you belong to the cream layer of society.”Vandana Bansal, a second year student of Journalism at VIPS, Delhi.
“In my personal experience, one of the problems is very weak internet connectivity even in metropolitan cities. Sometimes students aren’t able to mark attendance during the roll call because of patchy network and electricity cuts. It is ridiculous to expect from students to afford WiFi connectivity or high-cost data packs. Excessive screen time is another thing derailing the physical and mental health of students. It gets so stressful and mentally draining. I have regular headaches and pain if the eyes. I’m unable to study or read the material provided to us in the evening once the classes are over.”Anees Uz Zaman Choudhary, a final year student of Engineering at SRM University
Online education has already stepped in early 2016 with MOOC and e-pathshala. At the same time, many colleges has started their own video lecture libraries to help online audiences/student. However, education has changed a lot post COVID-19 and needed to be continued at the same pace till this pandemic slough off. Teachers are using new tools to create online exams, quiz and many other activities. Sometimes, it becomes very difficult for a teacher to cope up with the new technology, however, they have learnt how these new tools are complementing online education.Poonam Singh, Assistant Editor, BW Businessworld.
Straining mental health
These extraordinary times and social isolation have resulted in mental isolation, loneliness, and increased anxiety amongst students as well as professors, who are tasked to conduct, evaluate and enrich students. A spike in psychological stress has been reported widely, leading to conditions of depression, anxiety, and other debilitating issues. Students may be stuck in different cities from their families because it is dangerous and inadvisable to travel due to risk of infection. The interactions and bonds between different students lends a feeling of belonging, easing the academic pressures as well as mutually encouraging to learn, laugh and live, tackling identity crisis, heartaches, failures and other challenges that comes with being a college student. A long absence of such an environment leads to a gaping vaccum in the heart of college life. The holistic approach in classroom education cannot be emulated online, restricting the dynamic growth of students a college is supposed to bring.
Future of learning
The objective here is not to advocate for meaninglessly abandoning online education but to find the fault lines and aim to improve and engage with the discourse around online learning about how we can make adjust and adapt to ensure inclusivity, a healthy environment to learn, effectiveness, unburdening, prioritizing mental health of students, while providing ample opportunities for growth. Students themselves should contribute and suggest measures in conversations instead of falling in the hopeless apathy that corona virus has gradually engulfed people with. Apart from the immediate focus on inclusivity, productivity, effectiveness, etc a larger conversation about the reinvention of our current process of imparting education needs to take place, aspiring to analyse and change education structure with the rapidly changing world. Education is ideally expected to be a democratic process. It’s our responsibility as stakeholders to ensure that it is.
19. I like books, punk rock, philosophy and panicking over the crushing weight of existence. Student of Journalism, teller of stories.