Last month of the year 2019 gifted the world with the novel Coronavirus, first identified in Wuhan city of China. Thus, the year 2020 started with the rapid spread of the dreaded virus and the world got engulfed in the pandemic very soon. Whole humanity got affected by it and lost a lot of fellow beings since then. The absence of adequate knowledge about the mechanism of spreading of virus panicked everyone. An unprecedented path of lockdown was traversed by scores of countries, leading to confinement of billions of Homo Sapiens within their homes.
India too was subjected to lockdown in the last week of March 2020 and everything came to a screeching halt. The academic session 2019-20 was nearing completion with only a few months left to final examinations. The pending studies were contemplated to be completed through distance mode. However, there was hardly any preparedness to negotiate such unforeseen health emergency. The entire education system, starting from pre-primary right up to higher education, got disarrayed and various options were explored, including the promotion of students without examination, holding online examination, or holding offline examination after the resumption of normalcy, and many more. Neither the student community nor the educational institutions were equipped for online education delivery. Nonetheless, somehow with the meagre resources available at either end, the academic activities were completed for that academic session. Those students who got promoted to the next level still had the opportunity of managing the learning gaps on their own during the subsequent course of their studies, but those completing respective education programs had to exit with certain deficiencies, and thus, were hit hard.
It was the result of a poorly planned lockdown by the Indian Government that the COVID-19 cases kept surging dramatically without helping the economic and the educational sector of the country. Subsequently, the academic session 2020-21 too started with the campuses still being out of bounds to students due to the continuing threat of COVID infection and teaching activities envisaged being conducted in online mode. The online mode of education started in the current academic session with some preparedness for carrying out remote teaching to students. However, the students still reel under the acute digital divide and struggle to learn. Even after a lapse of so much time since the beginning of COVID-19 in India, the educational institutions are unable to function as before the enforcement of lockdown.
Therefore, it will not be unfair to say that the COVID-19 has affected students in two academic sessions consecutively. Unquestionably the education system and regulators have tried and are also trying to ensure that the teaching-learning activities continue, but the extent of learning by the students in such a situation is likely to be deficient. The continued fear of the virus is not allowing students to return to campuses, meaning thereby that the student assessment and examinations are also being held in a somewhat similar fashion. in fact, there is great concern about the sanctity of the examinations being conducted in the online mode, in spite of the enforcement of the much talked about proctored examinations from homes.
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Students have ample inputs to claim that the online examinations in regular courses are not sacrosanct and cannot be compared with the pen-paper mode of examination on premises of the respective institution. Even the teachers are aware of the challenges faced in the online mode of assessment and evaluation. Now, with the results also being prepared on fallacious online examinations, this may lead to loss of integrity of these assessments and create an adverse impact on the meritorious & ethical students who did not resort to any unfair practices in these examinations. Academics should work out a suitable action plan in the new normal to hold on-campus classes, either partly or fully, followed by the conventional mode of student evaluation so that the student credentials do not lose their integrity.
It is an opportune time to strategize for overcoming the deficiencies of the online mode of teaching-learning-evaluation processes. Some of the generic issues emanating out of the prevailing model of education due to the limitations imposed by pandemic are;
- Insufficient interaction between teacher and students;
- Limitations of online interaction due to varying socio-economic conditions and the digital divide;
- Inability to completely understand the content delivered online for theoretical and laboratory courses;
- Learning gaps due to unavailability of peer interactions;
- Poor sanctity of online examination system;
- Virtualization creating an adverse psychological impact on learners about the learning limitations;
- Uncertainty about future career prospects;
- Fear psychosis withdrawing the learners from marching ahead for on-campus teaching-learning, etc.
The academic community has to primarily brainstorm on all the issues pertaining to the learning gaps nucleated due to the prevailing ‘Study from Home’ option. At the same time, the learners should also ponder upon their learning deficiencies in the present set up, because it is the students who will take the brunt of their inadequate learnings in forthcoming competitive examinations.
Consequently, students are getting burdened with making up their learning deficiencies on their own. Students should take resolve for starting self-learning at the earliest and make use of the leisure time available to them. With the ubiquitous knowledge around as e-content and digital form of learning resources, the students can overcome their deficiencies.
In addition, the regulatory framework of education should also enable the students for self-learning by providing access to e-content and knowledge resources that can be conveniently used for their improvement. The provisioning for the assessment tools that ensure the integrity of the evaluation process is also an urgent need.
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About the author
Prof. Onkar Singh is the Vice Chancellor of Veer Madho Singh Bhandari Uttarakhand Technical University, Dehradun, He has been the Founder Vice-Chancellor of the Madan Mohan Malaviya University of Technology, Gorakhpur (U.P.). He is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Harcourt Butler Technical University, Kanpur (U.P.).