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Opinion

Like a virus turned the classroom upside down

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Ram Singh sees an uncertain future. The 25-year-old visually impaired graduate student from Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) moved home in the Sri Ganganagar district of Rajasthan when the government announced a national lockdown in March to curb the spread of Covid-19. Since then, the university has taken semester exams twice, but the International Relations master’s final-year student has not appeared both times, due to connectivity issues and a lack of online resources.

The 25-year-old said that most of his study material, including his laptop that has assistive reading devices, is back in his hostel room on campus. “The laptop had all my data and research work needed for the studies. But we have not been allowed to visit the hostel and collect our things until now. I’ve been using my sister’s laptop for the past 10 months, but she doesn’t have the reading software, ”he said.

Singh comes from humble roots, his father is a farmer and his mother is a homemaker. The confinement and the pandemic have been difficult for everyone, but especially for him because his mobility has been restricted. “It has been very tough and challenging without any help. Also, it is restricted due to lack of internet. In our area, connectivity is very bad. You can’t attend a class online without disconnecting, ”he said.

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Many of his friends were unable to take the first online exam, held between August and September, but they did in the second iteration of the exam that began this month. “But I can’t even go to internet cafes because I would need human help. We could not achieve even the minimum during the pandemic, “he said.

University officials said they have already provided multiple opportunities for students to sit for exams and complete the academic year. “In case some students are still left behind, the university will help them. It has been an unprecedented year and the administration is helping the students in every way, ”said a senior administrative official.

Singh hoped the university would give him another chance, with a paper-and-pencil exam, and feared he would lose a year if he did not complete the remaining semester at the earliest. “I can only enter any other course after completing my semester. Otherwise, I’ll have to go down a year and I don’t want that, ”he said.

You are not alone.

The pandemic disrupted academic calendars across the country as fears of infection forced authorities to close schools and universities and change all online teaching. Many students missed semesters or missed the opportunity to go abroad to study. Others eagerly awaited the dates of competitive career entrance exams, such as JEE or NEET, for which they spent years preparing.

Disputes over the national tests reached the Supreme Court and the board’s examination dates for the following year have yet to be finalized. Additionally, thousands of students, mainly from low-income backgrounds, were forced to drop out of school because a contracting economy hurt family income and made it difficult to pay fees.

Anxiety around the virus and its transmission also revolutionized teaching methods and the way we study, from elementary to postgraduate. Classrooms turned into little square boxes on a zoom call, classroom chat turned into encrypted chat boxes, and daily attendance turned into a login password. You don’t need to speak out loud in class to interrupt more, now you can hover over the zoom link and wait for strangers to interrupt your teaching.

“We will definitely not go back to the pre-Covid style of teaching and learning, even after schools reopen. Education from now on will be mixed, interdisciplinary and integrated, ”said Jyoti Arora, principal of Mount Abu Public School in Rohini. “The pandemic changed the education sector forever.”

Arora explained that the pandemic initially took teachers off the wrong foot, as not all were trained to use technology learning tools and online learning lacked a structured environment for students.

“But this challenge eventually turned into an opportunity by introducing experiential learning, art integration, and the aspect of critical thinking into the virtual mode curriculum,” he added.

Some of the most eager were high school and college seniors – first for competitive exams, second for job prospects, end-of-term tests, and higher education abroad.

“There is a general sense of discouragement and pessimism in seniors as they face difficulties in scheduling their career,” said Tanvir Aeijaz, associate professor of Political Science at Ramjas College, University of Delhi. “Those who applied abroad are not sure about the admissions and the mode of studies. While many made changes to their plans, some started higher education online, ”he added.

The ripple effect of the pandemic-affected academic year is likely to sit for years. Nearly 24 million children around the world are at risk of not going back to school next year, UNICEF estimated in August, and girls and women may be disproportionately affected. A World Bank report in October estimated that prolonged school closings may cause a loss of $ 400 billion in future Indian revenue.

The brunt of this disruption may fall on children from weaker backgrounds, who have lost access to secured meals, free textbooks and other facilities. “There is an immense loss of learning among these children. The prolonged closure of schools and the financial crises caused by the closure imposed to curb the pandemic have pushed many poor children into child labor, ”said Sanjay Gupta, director of CHETNA (Improving Children Through Training and Action) , a non-governmental organization.

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