“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all”– Aristotle
The 21st century started with the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003 ensued by H1N1 swine flu in 2009, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012, Ebola virus in 2014, and finally the most dreaded one being COVID-19 continuing since the end of 2019. Fortunately, India did not feel the heat of either of these outbreaks except the latest one i.e. COVID-19. The enforcement of lockdown from 24th March 2020 impacted all sectors adversely. The closure of educational institutions disrupted teaching-learning activities and jolted a whole lot of students from the lowest to the highest level of formal education in academic session 2019-20, however, the disruption was adequately handled through the assessment based on previous performance and deferred conduction of final Board & University examinations for terminal classes like final examinations for class XII, graduation, post-graduation, etc.
In the meantime, the online mode of teaching was adapted for continuing the teaching-learning processes and acted as a panacea for education providers in sustaining the academic session 2020-21. But for many, it remained an illusion due to the unavailability of adequate internet and facilities like computers, laptops, smartphones, etc. The digital divide and varying socio-economic conditions came as the deterrent to the success of online teaching-learning activities. Nevertheless, the country had no other option than to continue with online activities despite knowing its limitations. Undoubtedly, the regulatory bodies tried their level best to ease out the learning processes to the extent of truncating the syllabus. The virtual conduction of the laboratory was also conceived and this continued to meet out the laboratory requirements. The small number of COVID infection cases and fatalities in the year 2020 raised the confidence level of the country’s governance that resulted in the opening of the educational institutions to resume teaching activities on campus, though with a certain care.
Suddenly, the massive surge of the pandemic in March 2021 called for the closure of educational institutions again, and the teaching-learning activities got discontinued in the latter half of the academic session 2020-21. The enforcement of no examination policy up to class XI and deferment of class XII board examinations and other higher classes became inevitable by many boards that could not complete these prior to the second surge of March 2021.
Unequivocally, the uncertainty creeping in the minds of those who are in class XII and aspiring to seek admission in graduate degree programmes of engineering, medical, law, etc. is atrocious. There are a good number of students that choose to take a drop in the year 2020 due to precariousness of COVID-19 havoc resulting in extraordinary delays in commencement of academic session 2020-21 and decided to try admission in academic session 2021-22 hoping that the situation will be normal by then. Nonetheless, this is proving fallacious! It seems that the virus is here to stay longer.
Indisputably, it is the second consecutive academic session when the students have not learnt their subjects of respective classes well. The continued firefighting with COVID-19 has not allowed for much preparedness on the part of the educational institutions as well as the students in the second academic session of 2020-21 too. Indeed, the efficacy of online teaching stands questionable. The courses involving laboratory learning have felt the brunt of online teaching heavily, as the student hands-on sessions in laboratories can not be substituted by virtual laboratories. Altogether, the learning deficiencies are ought to be there in the students due to the focus being majorly on:
- the institutional facilitation being limited to online interactions;
- limited IT facilities and internet;
- changing family conditions;
- absence of moral support from colleagues, etc.
The implications of the insufficient knowledge will be felt in the form of deficient competencies of such students of 2019-20 and 2020-21 academic sessions whose sufferings are attributed to COVID, in proving their worth for a particular qualification possessed by them. Patently, this COVID menace will be over after some time and living humans will pretermit the hypochondriasis and the horrifying loss of life around in the months of April – May 2021 due to it. Once normalcy restores, these affected students of two academic sessions marred by pandemic will have to essentially compete with others of past and future who have undertaken similar education without any panic. The learning level differences amidst those having passed similar classes/examinations may create troubles in the longer run. Therefore a suitable mechanism is required to compensate the learning losses by students themselves or by the educational institution.
Also Read: Salute to the Class of 2020
From the education perspective, it is also the disturbing timelines of academic sessions, that is concerning along with many facets of the COVID aftermath. Thus, the key issues needing attention are;
- To make up the learning gaps in students due to non-conduction of proper classes;
- To compensate for the loss of learning of those reeling under the digital divide;
- To make the continuous online learning assessments sacrosanct and acceptable substitute for pen-paper based final examinations;
- To reschedule the shifted timelines;
- To restore the confidence and esteem of learners who have felt the adversities of COVID;
- To facilitate education for those facing financial hardships in sustaining education;
- To educate the young generation for meeting out the catastrophic pandemics with minimum loss of life;
- To amend the curriculum to ensure that learners are sensitive enough towards sustainable developments;
- To equip the institutions and students for online teaching-learning processes;
- To rejuvenate the self-financed educational institutions becoming unviable due to lack of admissions, students dropping out because of poor financial conditions, and reduction in fee receipts.
Desirably, the educational institutions must set up well-thought-out action plans to ensure that the enrolled as well as passed out students of COVID-affected academic sessions get opportunities to learn the missing portions and possess the prescribed course outcomes. Institutional measures are essentially required to conquer over the extermination caused by COVID due to the unavailability of oxygen and healthcare facilities, failing which it will prove to be absolutely unpropitious to the growth of humanity and civilization. The regulators of education for all levels should inevitably ponder upon the concerned stakeholders and palliate the damage incurred to the younger generation of the country which is blessed with a 37-year advantage of demographic dividend. The opportunity loss on account of youth remaining disengaged from their pursuits of getting educated well warrants strategizing for immediate correction. The loss of youth potential on day to day basis may push the country out of its mission of achieving the targeted $5 trillion economy.
Let’s deliberate and discuss extensively to create a well-laid framework based on the holistic considerations for negotiating the past, present, and future disruptions in the education system lest it is late again.
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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.).