The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has forced education to move in to a new platform; online. However the question of feasibility, access and a lack of infrastructure capable of imparting education across the varying strata of students coming from the very marginalised sections, still plagues the system.
A survey-cum-referendum conducted by the Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA) in India, reveals that “over 90% of the students are unprepared for any form of university exams.
With over 51, 452 students participating in this survey, it clearly highlights the fallacies of an “online” mode of education. Subsequent lockdowns have forced students to return to their homes and both the teachers and students have been unable to cope with the plethora of issues that have cropped up, ranging from bandwidth constraints over the internet, lack of internet service, devices or electricity, to the absence of an environment conducive for education.
The Delhi University had proposed Open Book Examination (OBE) for the final-year students, which has received much criticism from students and teachers. On Friday (June 5, 2020) around 100 teachers from the Physics department of DU, signed a petition calling for a review of the OBE policy, as teachers pointed out the lack of institutional help to the students through online classes.
“Merely sharing links with students does not count as teaching,” the petition reads.
Students are miffed at the way their teachings are being rushed and “herded” through a common online mode system. They draw attention to the problem of having a single guideline for all subjects which is impossible, as each subject needs its own individual approach.
Problems with Open Book Examination (OBE)
The three-hour format for OBE proposed by the DU has many loopholes in its structure. The question pattern of OBE differs from the methods that students have been following for the past five semesters at their college. There are no mechanisms to ensure that students do not engage in unfair means. The OBE will only serve the purpose of carrying out the formality of conducting examinations without adding any value to the means of learning.
Alyasa, a 3rd-year Economics (Hons.) student from Zakir Hussain College calls this method as the least “ineffective” and “unfair” option, given the pandemic situation.
Calling this methodology “arbitrary”, Alyasa also pointed out that communication from the administration has been uneven and non-existent, as the students and teachers are not familiar with the pattern of such examination process. He said, “In such a situation, an effective solution would have been to first familiarise the students and teachers with this concept, ask teachers to hold classes for such a format, give students questions/assignments to practice OBE style questions, and then take an informed decision.”
Aparajita, a 3rd-year student pursuing Mathematics (Hons) from Miranda College said, “I am concerned about the conceptual question of OBE, as for the five semesters I have been studying what’s there in the books, doing question from the books and suddenly the university wants me to have conceptual clarity.”
Criticising the university’s move to conduct a mock test before the final exams, Aparajita said, “I have already started preparing for the exams right now and holding a mock test just a week before the exam makes no sense to me. I have adopted certain methods to study and changing them at the last moment would be difficult.”
Another student, Adil, who is in his 3rd-year of Electronics does not think OBE is good for self-assessment as the teachers won’t be around and the students can indulge in cheating.
Problematic nature of online classe
The online classes at best, can serve as a temporary substitute for face-to-face lessons. Lack of devices, internet connectivity and lockdown imposed mental health issues, poor feedback mechanism, lack of a study environment and a raging gap between have and have nots, which have exposed the problems with online mode of teaching. With people losing employment, opportunities and being stuck in places without any study material, the rushing of such online classes has only caused further damage for the students.
According to the DUTA survey, 38% of students have not been able to access materials even when it has been provided to them. Alyasa informed that not a single online lecture has been conducted for his subject. He said, “Notes have been supplied by teachers and queries were answered on WhatsApp, but no lectures. Even students were never keen to raise their concerns and force teachers to take online sessions; they were simply engaged with completing the syllabus.” Alyasa referred to this as “a broken system that gives no incentive for actual learning” and said “the university was only bothered about arranging an examination.”
Aparajita shared her part of the story, that she was at home when the lockdown was announced and was left with no books and study materials as she went back home, like the majority of the students did, for her mid-term breaks. She explained how the online classroom worked and said that student attendances were very little; a maximum of 16 and a minimum of 7 students had attended the online classes, out of 40 students, due to unstable internet connectivity.
She said, “Even though our teachers tried really hard but the output we got was disheartening. The classroom teaching is way higher than online classes.”
While Miranda college created a web portal on their official college website, for teachers to upload class notes and study materials for the students, it was not up-to-the-mark given the natures of the subjects.
“It is very important to understand that in Mathematics we do not look forward to class notes even if we attend regular classes in college. The subject is about theorems and concepts and the PDFs uploaded were basically something which is already given in the books. So, we ended up teaching ourselves. Even though the teachers took the doubt classes on WhatsApp but Mathematics is one subject which you can’t understand on WhatsApp or Google meet,” said Aparajita.
Another student of 3rd-year History honours, Darshan, who hails from Uttarakhand revealed that he could not attend more than 2 online classes due to the disruptive internet connection in his village. Therefore, he had to rely only on the study materials, which he had to travel 30-40 Km to printout.
He said, “Many of my classmates and I had to opt for YouTube videos because teachers are not responsive. I am anxious about the open book examinations and very uncertain about my performance.”
While the theory-based subjects may be dealt with within the online classes; practical oriented subjects had been totally compromised.
Adil being a student of Electronics argued that conducting practical classes online is a vogues idea as online classes cannot give you the same experience received working in a lab. He said, “This online class system has actually failed because many of the students either don’t have access to the internet and who might have accessed the notes but had no scope of proper discussion or interaction as such. And when it comes to the practical subject it is completely useless, we can’t internalise the necessary part with a theoretical thesis, for that we need classes.”
Empathising with the students, many teachers agreed on the failure of the online classes. Rajeev (name changed on request), who is a Political Science professor at DU said that any sort of classes is useful including online classes but the problem is with its reach and accessibility.
Referring to the recent viral picture of a Kerala girl, who was seen sitting on clay rooftop of her house to get a better internet speed, Rajeev pointed out that not every student has a smartphone or laptop with high-speed internet facility. And many of the students are not even technologically sound to access the online classes. He said, “If the online classes would have started with proper training and equipment then it could have resulted in positive outcomes.”
Similarly, Laxman, a Hindi Professor of Zakir Hussain College agreed with the observations of Rajeev about the online classes, pointed out that it is very important to consider the subject and place or background, from which the students belong to.
Laxman observed the drastic divide among his students when the online classes came into action. He said, “I realised that almost 10 out of a total of 50 students don’t have access to the smartphone and 20 cannot access the online classes due to lack of internet facility. So, the notes and recordings were shared over mail for their convenience. At last, only 10 were able to attend the class properly through the Zoom app or Google meet app.”
The inability to use online methods due to different reasons is not only limited to the students, as many teachers have also faced similar difficulties. There are cases where teachers were not able to take online classes given their unsound knowledge of the online platforms. Both Rajeev and Laxman revealed that many teachers needed help to understand how to use Google classroom or Zoom app.
Teachers’ inabilities to use the online platforms raises the question of the university’s dereliction of providing training or briefing, regarding the procedure or guidelines that were given for the online classes.
Rajib Ray, the president of DUTA said that there was no proper training or briefing for the teachers. He said, “No training took place for the teachers and they weren’t ready for this. Having a smartphone does not make one equipped to use it too.”
He appreciated the efforts by the teachers and said that they tried their best but unfortunately could not reach out to more than a particular number of students.
“We need proper infrastructure and training for teachers to seek better results,” he added.