Many college students are eager to return on campus. With the rising Covid-19 case counts and public healthcare deficiencies, when is it recommended to reopen colleges again?
One of the frequently searched questions on Google last month for some of us was, “When will colleges reopen?” After more than half a year of strict isolation, people are finally giving up. Sitting at home and staring at different walls only gets one so far. This sort of enforced isolation has taken its toll on even the most stringent misanthropes (myself included). People who avoided classes like the plague (no pun intended) are begging for their eventual return. Some have already started viewing their college days with a reel of nostalgia. One of my friends said that she feels like ‘it never happened’ and that ‘we just made it all up.’ Many people are experiencing similarly depersonalizing reactions to this extended bout of seclusion. At this point, students are ready to make Faustian bargains for campuses to welcome them again. But is it fair for us to expect colleges and schools to reopen right now? How safe would it be?
In the present moment, the world seems to be playing tug-of-war. That’s to say, there are two fundamentally different narratives trying to shape our present realities. One is a (false) story of stabilization and recovery. The other is of accepted failure and self-delusion. Initially, it seems that we’re getting better. India seems to be vitally reanimating itself from the recurrent disaster. Chai walas, paperboys, tobacconists, fish markets, open-air theatres, bar rooms – everyone’s Open for Business. The government has unveiled Unlock 4.0 with major relaxations in previous lockdown norms. In accordance with the guidelines issued by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, the state can no longer impose lockdowns outside of containment zones without approval from the Centre. They also cannot seal borders. From September 7, all of the Metro lines in Delhi have been deployed freely. Worse yet, The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has allowed a phased reopening of schools and colleges on ‘voluntary basis’ from September 21. How will that go?
But under even the most casually shrewd eye, we’re clearly losing here. According to a report by the BBC, India has the second highest number of all countries in the world, totalling at 4,659,984 as of September 13. Having effectively usurped Brazil from second place, we’re trailing behind only the United States of America. Forget about any flattening, we’re swinging skyward on the Curve as if it were a jhula. (But it only goes up.) As reported by India Today, every month since January 30, India has accounted for a growing share of the world’s coronavirus cases, and now makes up nearly 10 percent of the world’s total burden, and roughly 20 percent of new cases each day. If that’s the case then constant denial of how bad the situation seems to be a Great-Gatsby-styled attempt at burying the Present. Burying it frantically right as it unspools before us in uncontainable ways.
I interviewed a few college students to get personable insight into the situation.
I personally think colleges and universities should not open. I do want to see my friends, I miss going to college – but the cases are increasing every day. It should reopen by January in any case. For me, it’s safety first.Srishti Kumar, an English student at Ramjas College
I’m an outstation student from Manipur. My parents are totally against the idea of colleges reopening. Even if they do, I will not be allowed to attend college. In that way, I hope the colleges don’t open soon so others like myself don’t miss out. It won’t be fair– a student from Hansraj College
In a recent survey by LocalCircles with a sample size of 25,000 parents and grandparents from 252 districts of India, it was found that 58 parents do not support the reopening of schools. The reasons cited for their disapproval ranged from being the difficulty of social distancing in academic spaces, lack of available healthcare facilities and the fear of community spread. Meanwhile, other students had a different opinion:
I think it definitely should open with the SOP (standard operating procedure) prescribed by the Ministry of Health. A whole academic session should not be pushed back because everything else is reopening. Online schooling has never been encouraged before, so I don’t understand why they’re pushing it now.Nathaniel Warjri, a northeastern English student
The recent shift in the paradigm of academia’s age-old folkways has been difficult to process for everyone who is a part of it (including students, faculty and administrators). The traditional methods of schooling have been abruptly ousted like a bandaid. The trial-and-error method of finding an effective substitute for the academic system is being carried out like a big experiment. Students, however, feel that they are the subjects being experimented upon. While some of the teaching staff are trying to minimize the strife within their personal capacity, others are reportedly adding to the load. Dr. Pradeep Kumar, a media professor at Delhi University, has said that ‘despite the preparations, the conduct of classes will be difficult as before’ to DU updates.
I think this is probably a controversial take on this… but colleges should probably be back on. I mean, everything is, right? I think people are having a disproportionate reaction to the Coronavirus spread. I mean, yes, we’re the second most affected country in the world. But we have a recovery rate of 78% or something. We’ll probably be okay.a political science student from ARSD college
There seem to be a significant number of college-goers who find themselves without the proper resources and equipment to mitigate their online classes. Lack of proper internet connection, unavailability of personal space and personal difficulties are notable barriers. The behavioural adjustment of adapting to new folkways of online education seems to be a painful transition. With students from Kashmir to Kerala, the DU student demographic is geographically and economically varied. Many students are from rural areas and poor families with limited access to internet connectivity and insufficient know-how of technology. Others – presumably from economically disadvantaged backgrounds – are mourning their financial losses:
How do we personally regard these conflicting narratives about our times? The pandemic, I feel, is a puzzle we can only solve together.
Feature Image Credits: Ellen Weinstein for The New York Times