Learning from distance, a long way off from accessibility
The Secretary of Higher Education Department had recently told the vice-chancellors of State-run universities to start online classes for their students from August 3.
MADURAI: When the year was still in its infancy, 20-year-old Sundar had a tight schedule to meet everyday. A B.Sc Chemistry student at a government-aided college, Sundar rushed to his part-time job after his classes. The income was crucial to meet his educational expenses and to shore up his family's delicate financial firmament. He did the drudge without any complaint, for he dreamt of a future wherein he survived the backbreaking poverty. For that he needed the degree, his golden ticket. Sundar, a representative of many poor college students in the district, did not, at that time, have the faintest idea of what Covid-19 is, and what it is capable of.
College shuts down
The youth told TNIE that, when his college was closed subsequent to the lockdown, each of his lecturers created a separate WhatsApp group to help the students continue their studies. Those, however, are not active now. Recently, he learnt that online classes would be taken for them but he is yet to receive any instructions from his lectures, he said.
He is not the only one pushed into this mire. "My class has 38 students; ten of them do not have a smartphone. As for myself, I lost my part-time job because of the lockdown, so did my parents. So, even if they did start the online classes, how can I afford `500 a month just for mobile recharge?" he asks. The picture looks bleaker from a larger perspective as evidenced by the result of a survey carried out by colleges under the the Madurai Kamaraj University (MKU). It stated that over 30 per cent of their students don't have a smart phone or a laptop to attend the classes.
Hurdles for teachers as well
The Secretary of Higher Education Department had recently told the vice-chancellors of State-run universities to start online classes for their students from August 3. Following the instructions, several colleges have indeed started online classes for their 2nd and 3rd year UG and 2nd year PG students.
The order, however, caught many faculty off guard. Associate Professor from MKU College P Murugesan said he was informed that he should take online classes only a few days ago. He claimed he was not given any training to take the classes. "A few lecturers have difficulties to even use a smartphone. Moreover, a majority of students at the MKU constituent colleges and the MKU College are from economically-weaker families; they cannot afford to buy a smartphone for their wards," he said, adding that he received a timetable for his classes only on Monday and that he was going to create a WhatsApp group for his students.
A different viewpoint
According to another lecturer from a government arts and science college, however, the Tamil Nadu Technical Education Department trained the lecturers of government arts and science colleges through 'webinar' during the lockdown period. "The training included the method to take online classes, marking of attendance, recording the classes, conduct of practical classes among others. We are well prepared to take online classes through G-suite Team. During our survey, 70 per cent of the students have connectivity.The government, nonetheless, need to consider students coming from remote villages and hills, where the residents do not even have power connection," she said. As for the online classes, she said, "The students have to attend four one-hour classes each day. There would be breaks; a timetable is posted on students' WhatsApp group, she added.
Speaking to TNIE, MKU Vice-Chancellor M Krishnan said, "Students needs to attend a total of 450 hours of classes for the upcoming November semester. As such, each subject faculty need to take nine hours of classes a week. The faculty can utilise three hours for quiz, group discussion among others, but the remaining hours must be utilised for taking classes. Each class should be recorded and sent via WhatsApp. Also, lessons would be uploaded on YouTube. I have also ordered the principals of affiliated colleges to submit a report on the feasibility of online learning. Based on the report, we will make necessary arrangements for students from the villages to attend classes via e-Seva centres and through television channels," he said.