Worldwide pandemic COVID19 led to sudden closure in the country bringing everything at a halt. The screeching stoppage of academic activities has created ripples in the education sector and its’ ancillary sectors.
The buzz word of online education started ringing across the nation and wide-ranging activities nucleated around it. The concern for offering education to students was seen as the opportunity by those offering technological solutions for carrying out online teaching.
There has been a visible upsurge in the usage of platforms for real-time interaction and the same is being capitalized to increase their net worth in a short span of COVID-19 lockdown, as evident from different news items.
Also, there have been several groups working to evolve a suitable strategy to handle this disruption of on-campus education due to lockdown. Despite the available cushion period of summer vacations, the academic governance has been by and large intending to accomplish the online teaching to ensure that there is the minimum impact of this disruption and the online teaching-learning has rolled on.
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Looking upon the various news reporting about the difficulties faced in online education, the reasons for the haste in venturing into online education without assessing the preparedness for it at the ends of students and teachers are incomprehensible.
Utopian school of thought seems to be ignoring the prevalent digital divide at such time when the students are reeling under anxiety, future uncertainties due to lockdown, and the life-risking consequences of the pandemic.
There is ample evidence of the unavailability of physical resources like smartphones, laptops, computers and significantly varying internet connectivity across the country. The inadequacy of IT facilities due to the poor economic condition of one’s family should not make the student suffer as it may emanate frustration and helplessness.
At the same time, the teaching community not being at their workplaces also has the limitation of having the requisite hardware and internet data availability at home due to their own social and financial commitments.
The feasibility assessment was inevitably required before launching the online teaching-learning process at different levels. The socio-economic conditions, internet access, availability of IT hardware, electricity, anxiety-free state of mind, free environment, absence of any uncertainty, etc. are the essential contributors to the success of online learning.
Another pertinent issue of the quality of learning by the students in the online mode, though embedded with great subjectivity necessitates the honest feedback system before considering such online teaching exercises to substitute the on-campus teaching.
Theoretical courses and laboratory-based courses have different requirements of the mentoring which may not be possible sufficiently in the distance mode. The first-hand experience of the online classes using the available video-conferencing platform shows that there are a lot of distractions in the unstructured video conferencing classroom sessions devoid of any proctoring.
Acts of indiscipline, frequent disconnections, no check on the attentiveness, participation, data transmission losses, varying technology levels in equipment used at receiver/transmitter ends, etc. are quite visible in such ad-hoc arrangements for online classes that embarrass the teacher(s) and the students alike.
Also, such breaches are likely to have long term adverse implications on the institutional discipline and student-teacher relationships when they will get back to their campuses.
The discussions around for having online laboratory classes are also in progress. This virtualization of laboratory classes is going to be much more vulnerable from the quality perspective, and such classes may be just sufficing the completion of the course but will not add much value in the student learning. The absence of hands-on practice and ‘learning by doing’ will mar the quality of education. The learning levels of students are likely to be sacrificed in such virtualization.
Teachers can forecast the level of learning that is likely to be there in such remote teaching in respective courses should be made to participate in decision making. The academic governance should hear them concerning the subjects/courses taught by them before deciding to replace the on-campus teaching with online teaching in the time of distress.
In an effort to complete the session, the online examinations are also contemplated in many institutions despite knowing the limitations of digital connectivity. The online examination for assessing the learning level of the students located at their places has several issues about its fairness and integrity due to student end environment being not in control.
Further, the inability to check the cheating will depress the sizeable number of students and the whole examination process gets vitiated. The students appearing in online examinations from home can not be compared with the structured online examinations in which students appear at sacrosanct examination centers with proctorial arrangements. The credibility of the regular course examinations should not be compromised at any cost.
Undoubtedly, certain programs are being offered in distance mode of education in the country, but the same should not be the premise for the online education in this lockdown period as the qualitative distinctions between the two modes of education do not need any elaboration.
Advocacy for the online education to substitute the prescribed teaching-learning process of the on-campus mode should be based on the holistic consideration of the facilities with students & teachers as well as the possible learning and its quality.
The push by the developers of technological inputs for online education of remotely located students through learning management systems, effective interaction platforms, learning resource developments, real-time sharing, etc. should not be the driver for the enforcement of online teaching exercise in this period of temporary disruption.
Accolades to the Government for nucleating the thinking for creating provisions for having a common platform for digital interactions between students and teachers.
Keeping aside the fascination of institutional governance running ahead in the race to use digital platforms, the considered view of all teachers in any institution from the quality of education point of view should decide whether it is worth going for such a teaching-learning process or not.
However, the availability of digital learning resources and online interaction platforms should be there to supplement the regular on-campus teaching-learning process duly enabled by the institution admitting the students.
Efforts to make online teaching as a substitute for on-campus teaching is likely to be detrimental to the extent of learning and the quality of education along with restricting the overall development of students through interaction with peers in the present period of temporary disruption which has its stresses to be taken care by every stakeholder.
Academics should not panic in a pandemic as it’s tunnel vision will not be good for the learner community. Quality, Access, and Equity should not be compromised in Academics.