DU Beat on the occasion of Teacher’s Day is in conversation with Professor Agnitra Ghosh of Kamala Nehru College, read on to find out more.
Shivani: Sir, what are your views on how the teacher community is coping with the online teaching medium during this pandemic?
Professor Ghosh: So one thing I would like to say very clearly, of course we are facing several problems regarding the new mode of teaching. And I will tell you also, but in my opinion it is nothing compared to what the students are facing. On being asked about the teaching community there are several problems like first of all, with my personal point of view, this online teaching has almost become a 3-4 hour conversation with your laptop. In a classroom teaching there is a whole idea of certain connection with the students whether they are able to take note, are they understanding, here you are really not able to know if you need to repeat something, you just do not know. Second thing is, of course, regarding connectivity, power cuts etc and being a faculty member who stays in South Delhi, in 15 days of online classes I have faced these problems so whats going to happen to other parts of the country? And primarily there are discipline wise issues, I mean like, like I teach media and cinema. For instance we use lots of tools and mediums. You cannot teach film appreciation with using film clips. Or while teaching film media and media ethics, to make things interesting esp during tutorials you use lots of different materials but on these platforms there are several issues, like when you stream something it takes lots of data, sometimes the audio-visual does not match. So there are lots of issues, the most important thing being communication and technical issues, which I am facing here in South Delhi and so one can only imagine what faculty members and students from other places are really facing.
Shivani: How do you think is the pandemic going to impact teaching in the long term? And do you think digital classrooms are a welcome change in the long run?
Professor Ghosh: I have to say, while this a welcome move to deal with the present situation, it can never be a replacement for classroom teaching. First of all, the most important problem is that this is terribly exclusionary, the concept of smart phones, mobiles, laptops. For eg, a mass media programme at a college has advertised that you must have a laptop and strong connection, I mean that is not something that is goo, it is terribly exclusionary to all kinds of students. I do not think this is the future, you have to keep in mind the digital divide in our country. Of course, in a crisis situation we have some mechanism, but this is not at all an alternative.
Shivani: On the same idea, what in your opinion are certain steps our University should then take to make education more accessible and inclusive?
Professor Ghosh: I mean, there are several things people are doing on individual levels. A friend of mine who teaches in a DU college, he was audio recording a class and sending it to students, so I asked why do you not take class (in the previous semester). He said no I mean this is what takes less data especially those who are coming from disadvantaged sections of strata of this society. And yo cannot expect, in a crisis situation such as this, that your students will be available throughout, for eg, in the previous semester we were taking classes whenever we got time. Most people are back in their hometown, to expect that is also very (bad), you should try to be as flexible as possible. I feel the best way to go about is to take feedback from students. You can do a survey and find out what are the other ways to reach them it may be regarding other kind of study materials, audio lectures that will take less data. Anytime kind of decision making process, each concerned stakeholder is consulted. Because I can talk about the difficulties I have faced, but I dot know what someone sitting in a village in Kerala, Adhra Pradesh, Bengal or UP must be facing, so we must consult the students and figure out a mechanism in this crisis situation.
The decisions by MHRD, the University and other administrative bodies are very bureaucratic, I mean, it follows some kind of a mechanical logic and without consulting student community and even faculty members. So that’s what it becomes exclusionary and problematic. For eg, the DU online exams the data provided by DU to judiciary that 50% of students didn’t manage to sit for the exams. Due data provided to the court. News reports stated some absurd logic, the xyz numbers of students could download the admit card, I mean that does not mean they can give the exams at the centre of there wont be any problems. Without consultation of our stakeholders it is very bad for our education system.
Shivani: Thank you sir, on the same idea sir, what are your views on the recent intimidation and violence against our professors and scholars?
Professor Ghosh: It is happening for the last few years- public intellectuals, scholars, university professors they are arrested and charged in different places and these “small incident” have been happening continuously. Vandalisation on the screening of a documentary film, whatever happened at Ramjas two years back, what happened at JNU and Jamia this year. The brutalizing of students and faculty members, it is all destroying the public universities. I mean universities are the last place for this kind of violence. When I was a student at JNU, you could study there for Rs 260-280, people make fun of how ridiculous is that, for a country like ours university doors open for the most marginalized. I have my friends who are coming from very humble backgrounds and completing their higher education at JNU, Jamia and DU. The government is hell bent on destroying universities through different ways: one is intimidation tactics, another is political appointments, or other ways like changing the curriculum which has nothing to do with the scientific education system. Scholars, academicians and students play a very crucial role in our country.
It isn’t specific to this regime, this attack on intellectuals and scholars has been happening from a very long time in an undeclared way. IT is going to end someday, students will manage to do the same. They continue to voice themselves, they protested only a few days back against NEET JEE, against online exams, there are massive protests. We should not look at these protests from a reductionist lens of “what will be the results”. We should continue to challenge, the solidarity of the progressive voices (students and teachers) as for a better future.
Shivani: Sir on a more sentimental note, could you name some professors or teachers who have left a deep impact in your life?
Professor Ghosh: I have done my Masters from Jadavpur University in Film Studies, for the first time I understood oh there is a world beyond what you ready in your textbooks. Jadavpur University and the faculty members there gave me that space, to think beyond your classroom lectures, whatever is in your syllabus. I mean, there are some things you must discuss. If you are a student of, say, Psychology, History, Geography or English you should discuss what is going on (outside the syllabus) what makes you a good student and a good human, more importantly. And when I came to JNU, I couldn’t spend much time classroom as in one’s MPhil/PhD one does not have much scope to have classroom lectures.We used to have dinners with faculty members, speaking on caste and gender. Listening and asking questions was a fantastic experience and I think all these faculty members. We would have someone from Science talking about rationality and justice, all these things inspired me ad contributed in the way I am.
Shivani: Continuing on the same sentiment, in your journey as an educator, what has been the most memorable experience that you have had?
Professor Ghosh: I do not think there was one turning point or moment at which I was happiest, I think this has happened several times. While I was teaching at Kamala Nehru College, when a student said something that I had never thought about, that is the happiest moment these small moments, when someone answers in some way, acts in some way, something said by my student in any presentation or if someone asked me a question or especially when someone proved me wrong. Those are the happiest moments of a teacher, for me at least. There is so much to learn from even one’s students.
Shivani: This Teacher’s Day, what is the one message you would like to give to your students?
Professor Ghosh: So I was reading an article in Tribune, I completely agreed and that would be the message I’d give- this is a moment of crisis, look the pandemic, this is a moment of political crisis, the witch hunt is going on, so that’s the moment to talk about one thing from students that we look forward to solidarity from our students, solidarity for critical thinking, solidarity for to move forward for a better future for this country.
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