Until Normality Resumes
While economic activities in the country have slowly started amid Covid-19 scare after months of complete lockdown, one sector that is still in limbo and is likely to remain so for a while is education. Even as the Centre government appears to be contemplating reopening of educational institutions considering the loss of time students have suffered over the months, many think traditional classroom learning it not safe for students as well as the society under the current situation. The University Grants Commission’s (UGC) recent announcement, asking the universities across India to conduct final year examinations by the end of September this year either via offline, online or blended (offline + online) mode has sparked a heated debate with several states opposing the revised guidelines and deciding not to hold exams. It is reported that some students too have moved the Supreme Court, seeking it to squash the UGC guidelines on the ground that there are many students, who themselves or their family members are tested positive for the virus, thus posing a threat not only to their own health but also of others. The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) too has sought the feedback of parents on reopening of schools. The department of School Education, Nagaland has also issued a circular informing that an online survey on reopening of educational institutions would be conducted for parents of students from both government and private schools on July 22. While the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare will take the final decision on this matter considering the current pandemic, it is good that the MHRD is taking the opinions of the parents.
The decision to conduct examinations for the final year students might have been taken after much deliberation and to salvage at least a part of academic loss of students but it can be counterproductive as Covid-19 cases in the country keep increasing and have already crossed one million-mark. It is obvious that conducting offline exams is risky in the current situation. The move will also put thousands of students, who had left for their home states in view of the lockdown, in trouble as many may not be in the position to return to their colleges to write exams. Online exams too won’t work as internet is either inaccessible or connectivity is poor in various parts of India, especially in rural areas. The government of India is in a dilemma regarding resumption of classes because of the same problems – disparity. This crisis has once again reminded us of the existence of great geographical, urban-rural, and rich-poor divides not only between regions but also within states even as Centre talks of digital India. The reality is that millions of children, especially in remote areas don’t have television sets and gadgets to access online classes. Even if gadgets are provided, many won’t have access to internet or connectivity is too slow. On top of that, there is electricity problem in many rural areas. While these economic and technological issues make online learning not conducive, returning to traditional classroom learning too is risky as we can’t say how far children will maintain social distancing, wear face masks and follow other precautionary measures when even adults can’t. Considering these factors, it is best to leave the matter of reopening educational institutions to respective states so that they can assess the ground reality and come up with a practical learning system wherein no student is left behind. This adjustment is necessary in the absence of a vaccine or until the situation normalises.