COIMBATORE: With Tamil Nadu's government arts colleges beginning online classes for second and third year students this week, the issue of cost has been raised by teachers and students. While teachers say that an inequity in funds allocated to grade-II and grade-III colleges leaves them without access to technology required to conduct classes online, students say that they may not be able to afford the data costs even if they had access to mobile devices and internet.
Highlighting the difference in resources, teachers point out that the Coimbatore government arts college, a grade-I college, has made arrangements to conduct classes online. The college has access to Microsoft software and all staff and students have an id and password they can use to log on to lessons.
However, they say grade II colleges in Mettupalayam, Palladam, Kangeyam, Avinashi, among others, barely have the resources to make such arrangements.
A professor at the Mettupalayam arts college says that, while the directive is welcomed, grade-II colleges have access to neither computers nor internet facilities.
"Computers, internet access, software for online classes are all available at the Coimbatore government arts college," says the professor.
"Grade-I colleges get more funds so their staff are even able to shoot videos with a proper camera and use better software for lessons. We have to use Zoom or Google Meet and struggle with patchy internet to conduct classes," the professor adds.
"Most of us also don't know how to use such software to conduct classes. The higher education department should train faculty on how to teach online and give colleges access to better computers, cameras and hi-speed internet facilities so staff can come to college and conduct the classes," another professor says.
However, it is not just faculty who may struggle. Students of these colleges too are wary of what an online education might entail.
P Lokesh, a second year student at a grade-II, says that to attend five hours of classes each day -- as per the guidelines -- he would need 5GB of data.
"However I get only 1.5 GB under my current data plan. I would have to recharge my prepaid account several times to get 150GB a month. This is impossible and I will not be attending classes, as can't afford to spend that much on data," he says.
Student's Federation of India Coimbatore district secretary M Dinesh Raja says no formal communication had been received from the colleges on online classes. However, if there are to be online classes, the State government should provide all facilities to the colleges and students, he says. "At least 50 per cent of students would be unable to attend online classes for want of mobile devices and internet access," he says.