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Online Classes – A Constant Struggle: Stress, Screen Time and Inaccessibility

Delhi University (DU) began its semester with online classes from 10th August 2020. This new shift in the learning and teaching process, however, has come with its own share of disadvantages.

Ever since the spread of COVID 19, there has been a significant disruption in the education sphere across schools and colleges. The nationwide lockdown, enforced to minimize the spread of the infection, led to a huge loss of learning time and experience for the students. While the graduating batch attempted online open book examinations, online teaching has resumed for the existing batches through video conferencing mediums like Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, etc.

Education is expected to level the playing field for all, but the new mode of teaching is affecting different students in different ways. Online classes have come across to be an inequitable solution for students to continue with their studies in the ongoing pandemic- an ‘act of God’.

DU Beat reached out to students in different colleges of Delhi University (DU) to know the problems they are facing with the online commencement of the odd semester.

We have continuous classes for an average of 6-8 hours daily. A major problem we’re facing is that we don’t get any breaks in between these classes. The 15 minute gaps are mostly used by teachers to wrap up their topics or for attendance. On several days, we are just sitting in front of our screens starting from 8:30 am to as late as 6:15 pm. It becomes so hectic and straining. We did report this issue to the principal but haven’t received any positive response yet.” He added, “It is also unfair to expect that all of us would have long running data packs to sit through hours of these classes.

Ananthasekhar is a second-year B.Com (Hons), student at Shri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC)

We have a total of six to seven classes every day with breaks hardly one or two hours in between. The excessive screen time is having a serious impact on our eyes and causing difficulties in sleeping like insomnia and loss of appetite. The teachers are concerned about the lack of interaction from the students’ end as if they are completely blind towards what’s happening.

a student from Maitreyi College

Keeping in mind the retention capacity and screen time for students, the administration at St. Stephen’s College, however, reduced the number of classes per week for each paper by one and the time period has been restricted to 40 minutes per lecture.

The changes in timetable benefit both teachers and students, as sitting in front of a screen for hours is an issue for all. Though the 40 minute lecture hour works effectively for most teachers, some find it difficult to wrap up in the reduced timeframe and continue to go on for another 20 minutes. But it’s great that the administration understood this on its own and took a decision on the same.

said KuberBathla, a student of B.A. Programme at St. Stephen’s

I’m attending all the online classes on the phone which makes it even more difficult considering the prolonged screen time. My course is a practical one and mathematical in nature. With the available guidelines, the interest and welfare of a lot of students are still at stake; those who do not have accessibility to unlimited internet and electricity connection. The pandemic has pushed everyone’s boundaries but online classes cannot be conducted when it is inaccessible for some students. The structure of attending classes cannot remain unchanged. It has to take everybody because each student is important.

Divya, a final year Economics student at Lady Shri Ram College for Women (LSR), stressing on college education to be inclusive

With the slow internet speed, it gets really difficult to cope up with what’s being taught in the class. Mobile data buffers with 2G speed become very exhausting as you have to wait hours for things to load. Many professors do record lectures for students who have a poor connection but again, the connectivity in my area isn’t enough to download or view those recorded lectures.

A second year student at Ramjas College currently living with her family in Kashmir, on conditions of anonymity

In my personal experience, the main issue is with very weak internet connectivity even in metro areas. Sometimes we aren’t able to mark our attendance during the roll call because of the discontinuous network and electricity cuts. Also, the mobile data we use gets exhausted within 3 or 4 hours of lectures and the classes go on till much later. It is disheartening for students who can’t afford WiFi connectivity or high-cost data packs. Excessive screen time is another thing derailing the physical and mental health of students. A lot of us use our mobile phones to join the classes since we don’t have a laptop. It gets so stressful and draining. I have regular headaches and inflammation of the eyes. I’m unable to study or read the material provided to us in the evening once the classes are over.

Daya K., a final year student of Chemistry (Hons) at Miranda House, told DU Beat

Besides the very hectic timetables, we don’t have the necessary conditions at home to attend the long hours of lectures. Unavoidable house chores and an unsupportive domestic environment induce further stress and anxiety of keeping up with the studies amongst the students. Many of us mailed the college administration regarding this but still, there hasn’t been any response from their part.

Sooraj Elamon, a final year student of Sociology at Hindu College

While jobs, schools, colleges, and everything is shifting to the digital medium, not all houses have adequate numbers of devices to accommodate it all. Several households are forced to choose between their children’s’ education and work from home jobs.

I live in a joint family with five siblings. There is a crunch of devices from which we can join our classes. We have only two smartphones and one desktop. Since the timings for schools and colleges are similar, two of us always have to compromise on our learning. It feels absurd but we attend classes turn by turn. The pandemic has added so much stress to our parents already, they’ve not received a salary for the lockdown months. It will be unfair to expect them to buy more devices for us and it is equally unfair that our education now depends on the probability of whose day it will be to have the device. The frequent power cuts further hamper the studies as devices can’t retain charge for long hours.”

Requesting anonymity, a second year student at Ram Lal Anand College, currently living in Bhopal

To attend a day of classes requires huge data consumption and costs a lot of money. Colleges aren’t doing anything for students who cannot afford such things. We aren’t using much of the infrastructure of our campuses, but we are still paying the full fee, not proportional, in the name of ‘maintenance cost’. This entire system has made students so helpless, you are expected to understand the ‘unprecedented’ situation but nobody is actually trying to understand ours.

Another student from Indraprastha College for Women (IPCW) told DU Beat

These unprecedented times and social isolation have resulted in mental isolation, loneliness, and increased anxiety amongst students. There are people trying to survive in abusive households, while some may be stuck far away from their families because it isn’t safe to travel. The shift to online classes has left little scope for teachers to address students and their issues individually, and pushed the already stressed students on the verge of mental collapse. Some professors do check up on students and counselors are connected online, but that isn’t the case in many colleges.

For some people, like me, college used to be the only way out of our toxic home environment. Even if I wasn’t attending classes, just being away from home felt comforting. I’m not good at studies and the online classes have made it worse to comprehend things around people who make it cumbersome.

A commerce student at Zakir Husain Delhi College, requesting anonymity, told DU Beat

For students like Malavika, headaches have become an everyday companion amidst the online semester.

My mental health is drowning because of trying to attend the online classes. I’m fed up with complaining about this to the administration, teachers and even my parents. With the online mode my personal struggles with learning are becoming more tough.

Malavika, a second year sociology student at Hindu College

This shift in learning mode involves other major stakeholders too, one of them being the teachers. Professors have risen to the challenge with fortitude by getting accustomed to the new digital mode of teaching and developing the two way interaction. The screen time and other issues have spiked for them alike.

Ms. Aahana Bhatnagar Chopra is an Assistant Professor at Indraprastha College for Women and mother of a four year old.

Online teaching might not be challenging for young teachers but it is very strenuous for those who aren’t familiar with online tools. The times we are in, the situation demands us to manage working from home, at home with equal dedication. Apart from taking my own academic classes, I have to sit with my kid for his classes as well since he is too young to control the device.

Ms. Aahana Bhatnagar Chopra, Assistant Professor at Indraprastha College for Women

For teachers who thrive on student interactions and active responses, teaching to a screen with no faces feels like talking to a wall. The most experienced professors are at a loss in this respect.

I believe, as teachers we have to adapt to the imperative need of learning and unlearning teaching methodologies but sometimes it does get extremely difficult to manage things. I cannot compromise on quality and learning experience for both my child and my students.

Chopra added

When the entire world was confined to their homes, virtual spaces, no doubt, kept the flow going, especially in the employment and education sector. But the added pressure to conform to the online teaching solutions has bared the digital divide like nothing else before. Institutions and individuals across all socio-economic levels are attempting to do this.

Education is supposed to be the great equalizer, creating a leveled playing field for all sections of the society. With the new methodologies in place, the exclusion is going to be a pertinent issue. Localized solutions and different methods must be developed to ensure that each student has access to knowledge.

Feature Image Credits: Lovisha for DU Beat

Aishwaryaa Kunwar

aishwaryaak@dubeat.com

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