Online Higher Education in the time of Covid-19: A Reflection
Updated: Jun 28, 2020
By Prachi Arora
With the shutting down of educational institutions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, lots of schools and colleges are asking their teachers to send material and hold their classes online. On the face of it, the move towards online teaching seems an obvious and a default step. It seems like a solution that would enable the continuation of the transaction of the syllabus and in the long run, would help mitigate the halt which the syllabus completion would have faced. Online classes are being held on communication platforms such as- Skype, Zoom etc. The intensity of movement towards online classes can be grasped from the fact that the user base of one of the platforms, Zoom, saw an increase from 10 million to 200 million in March 2020. But is taking this online approach an apt response to our education halted by the pandemic? Besides, having certain challenges, for example, many teachers’ inexperience with such modern technology, the non-availability of many resources online etc., the online mode of education seems to have many assumptions about the learners that may not be true for many of the cases-
Assumption 1- It assumes that the learner will have good internet connectivity and unlimited data to be able to join in online classes on online communication platforms such as Zoom, Google hangouts meet, or Microsoft teams which consume a huge amount of data.
Assumption 2- It assumes that the learner will have laptops/ smart mobile phones or tablets that can support these applications/software.The i magination of learners evident through these assumptions is that of a middle class or an upper-class student. The family of this student (or the student themselves) can afford and provide good internet connectivity and phone/ tablets to all the scholars in the family because how else would members of the same family take online classes if they happen at the same time? With a major chunk of India's population living in poverty and struggling to survive, this imagination seems disconnected from reality.
Assumption-3 Thinking that children would be able to study at home assumes a healthy mental state of the child and support from the household too. It also assumes that students would have free time to study and does not have to do household chores.
There are various problems with these assumptions.
With a pandemic going on, death counts increasing daily, the economy crashing and having to stay at home for such an extended period, I genuinely wonder how many of the students are not anxious or concerned or are having a healthy mental state? This anxiety may be about survival, future, well being of near and dear ones.
Besides, domestic abuse and violence is not a faraway scenario. Domestic abuse has seen a high increase after the lockdown. How does one study in such an environment? Furthermore, one also cannot ignore the gendered division of labor prevalent in the society where women/ girl children are expected to undertake most of the household chores. How do we expect women to do household chores because domestic helps are not coming/ they cannot afford to employ one or otherwise (That is again a caste, class issue for some other day) and then, study, do homework, attend classes? Many female students are not able to access and continue education due to such reasons and online classes limit access even more.
All the three assumptions reflect one thing: that the educational institutions don't think that students are bound by social structures. They think that students leave all these social inhibitions outside education. The same is also reflected in absence of critical discussions, absence of efficient representation and absence of conversations regarding struggles of caste, class etc., in the face-to-face education provided in school and colleges. Now in online classes, these concerns become very stark and noticeable.
What to do?
The need for the present is not to hold online classes or send material and be in a rush to complete the syllabus. The need right now is not to think about the future and prepare students for exams, competition and so on and so forth in the future. The need right now is to focus on the present and on what is happening around. The need right now is to understand how students are bound by social structures of caste, class, gender etc. and their education is severely affected by it. The need right now is to support students who might be facing anxieties and struggles and encouraging students to support each other. The need right now is to initiate critical conversations with students regarding privileges of class, gender, which enables one’s ability to attend classes, study at home and experience education as a whole. The need right now is solidarity, compassion and love. The need is to understand that life is way more than education and ‘productivity’ reaped out of it.
The need to rethink online classes and refashion education in the times of the pandemic is necessary to fulfil the broad aims of education of enabling children to understand the world and develop criticality. We need to understand the challenging social structures, which affect students, rather than push us to simply mug up knowledge of the subjects, which seems to be the major reason behind initiating online classes.
*Prachi Arora, is currently pursuing an MA in Education at the School of Education Studies, Ambedkar University Delhi. Prachi has completed a BA (H) in Elementary Education from University of Delhi. She likes to think and sometimes write about 'normal' things happening around her and think about their ”abnormality.” In this process, Prachi untangles her messy thoughts.