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Putting the “E” in education

Intro: The Covid-19 lockdown forces schools and colleges to use social media, E Learning sessions and virtual classrooms to reach out to students – with some awesome results. Will this forever change the way we teach?

Life before social media was such a drag. But then TikTok, WhatsApp and Instagram took an entire generation – and their public personas – online. It changed the way they chatted, shared their lives and even determined what they ‘hearted’. Who would have thought these very apps would one day stream algebra, economics and psychology? For Gen Z, the Covid-19 crisis has done the impossible – it’s taken what’s ‘cool’ and made it ‘uncool’. Or has it?

Faced with an unprecedented situation, where the lockdown has disrupted the academic year, schools and colleges have taken education online and are using social media to share assignments, deliver tutorials, and conduct virtual classes and even exams. Who’s cool now?

E Learning has become the new face of education during the Covid Crisis

It’s all new and there are many challenges. Still, displaying unwavering commitment to their students, teachers in educational institutions across the country are going above and beyond to close the academic year with minimal disruption.

Social media is changing the paradigm of teaching and the question everyone is asking is: has the medium of instruction changed forever?

We spoke to colleges and universities in Bengal as well as outside, for a status update on how they are faring:

Our NSS volunteers of the Pacchunga University serving those who were in quarantine aT R Dengthuama indoor stadium Aizawl.

University faculty members at PUC have met several times to assess the situation and chalk out a plan of action. Despite the unprecedented situation, there has been excellent coordination between students and teachers, who have been trained to use online platforms to proceed with minimal disruption, Says Principal Dr Tawnenga.

Principal of the Pachhunga University, Dr Tawnenga.

Most of our teachers are using Google Classroom. They have also created WhatsApp groups to circulate notes to students, and are routinely circulating assignmentsso that the students’ performance can be assessed on a regular basis. Thanks to technology, we have been able to complete our syllabus despite these challenging times.” The university is also conducting online counseling sessions to help students cope with the potential fallout of the lockdown.

Vice-Chancellor, Pachhunga University College, says: “I am very happy to say that Pachhunga University College of Mizoram University is doing an excellent job of implementing online education.  The entire syllabus has been completed via Google Classroom by all the teachers. Great job from a government institution under Mizoram University, whose dedicated and committed teachers have put their students above all else.

“Assignments were submitted online and internal exams were conducted through MCQ(Multiple Choice Questions). Teachers used Zoom, WhatsApp, etc to virtually interactwith their students. Great salutations to the faculty of PUC, for great service to students during this panic situation.Great appreciation to their motivating leader, the Principal of the institution.”

Assam University:Vice-Chancellor, Prof Dilip Chandra Nath

Although Assam University has done its best to motivate its students via online education, things have proved challenging. Prof Dilip Chandra Nath, Vice-Chancellor, Assam University,says neither the syllabus nor the exams could be conducted on time. Just like other colleges, classes were taken via Google Classroom while WhatsApp groups helped circulate notes and other study materialamong the students. Documents are also being mailed to them.

Assam University:Vice-Chancellor, Prof Dilip Chandra Nath

Says Prof Nath: “We are stressing video conferencing and are trying to conduct our classes according to the prescribed schedule. We intend to complete the syllabus by the end of June but the biggest challenge is poor Internet connectivity for students who live in remote areas.”

Worried about another extension of the lockdown, he says the university will conduct remedial classes once normalcy is restored.

University of Science and Technology, Meghalaya: Chancellor, Mahbubul Hoque

University of Science and Technology, Meghalaya (USTM)

Meticulous planning has saved the day at USTM, where classes are underway in full swing. Teachers are using online platforms to reach out to students through apps like Zoom and Google Classroom. WhatsApp groupshave also been created and Class Representatives monitor the proceedings during these classes.

Officers on Duty and Academic Officers have been appointed to monitor the progress of the work and ensure that discipline is maintained during online education, since this a new concept for everyone. Students are given links to websites, where teachers can upload videos and students can access these from time to time.

Mahbubul Hoque, USTM Chancellor says : “We have allotted specific time slots for different classes and hand-written notes are being distributed to students, so that they can get the required study material. After regular classes resume, assignments and exams will be conducted.  This is a new technique but we are trying our best to adapt to the situation so that we can gradually get our students habituated to this mode as we have no idea how long the lockdown will continue. The University Grants Commission (UGC) will convene to review the situation and come up with other strategies to plan a future course of action.

Mahbubul Hoque , Chancellor , : Chancellor, University of Science and Technology, Meghalaya

Meghalaya Education Minister, Lahkmen Rymbui, has applauded universities and a college for going all out to curb disruption to the curriculum.He has urged the heads of institutions and teachers to continue to use online and virtual platforms to teach and connect with students.

At this time of social distancing, classroom teaching is not feasible but we now have strong digital infrastructure, e-learning and virtual knowledge-sharing platforms. These allow us to continue teaching and guide students. Our students are our top priority,” he says. To make things easier, he says the state Education Department has partnered with a local start-up “I urge all institution to use this app for online learning.”

Rymbui acknowledges that during these difficult times, students can grow anxious, not only due to the sudden switching in teaching methodology but due to the lockdown and what it entails.He has urged teachers to help students cope with anxiety and allay their fears. “I know that a teacher’s job is never easy and I sincerely appreciate all their efforts.”

The minister has assured faculty and other staff that the Education Department is doing its best to release all pending salaries, including school grants and uniform grants for students.

Lahkmen Rymbui , Meghalaya Education Minister

About online education,Rymbui stresses Digital Infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing or DIKSHA, a platform that offers teachers and students learning materials relevant to the prescribed school curriculum. He says students and teachers will be able to use textbooks and DIKSHA to access and create high-quality teaching, learning and assessment resources for all subjects and levels in all Indian languages.

Launched by the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development and the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) earlier this year, DIKSHA is a customisable, national, digital infrastructure that states can use for their respective teacher-centric initiatives. 

Educators believe that taking the entire education system onlinewill impact the way we teach in future. While it is too soon to say what exactly will change, they feel that software applications and other virtual tools will be incorporated into the teaching paradigm.

According to Nirmalya Gupta, Marketing Manager at Educlears Learning Services, an online learning centre, “There is no doubt that e-learning is the future, and gradually more and more people will become habituated to the online system. The lockdown due to the COVID-19 crisis means that students will not be able to interact with their teachers and coaching classes for some time. They have no choice but to depend on online education and artificial intelligence, which in turn will be very beneficial for them.

Marketing Manager at Educlears Learning Services , Mr Nirmalya Gupta

After the crisis had passed, it seems there will be no looking back – education is set to go the e-way.

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