Online classes might be the most effective way to continue education in these times, but it lacks the essence, effectiveness and vitality of a classroom.
More often than not, social media these days is filled with stories and photos from archives, students in lawns, attending events and memories of tapri time and chilling in cafes. Three months into online classes, no matter how much we hated commuting for hours, we miss being in college. Online commencement of classes was to keep the flow continued during the pandemic but it lacks the essence of actually attending classes.
I initially struggled with mobile data and internet connectivity but the newly installed WiFi connection came to the rescue. Like most of my classmates, I have now settled into an almost comfortable routine of attending classes online, much like in college. The longer hours begin right from 8:30 in the morning and go on till 5 in the evening, often without any breaks. But it is still okay, the cameras are switched off and I can do my chores and other activities while the lectures are logged in. On some days I write down notes, on others I just mark my attendance. What could be more convenient than this, right?
Maybe. But for a fairly privileged urban student residing in a metro city, online education isn’t that difficult to access. All of this ease and comfort comes because of a running WiFi connection, laptops and smartphones, designated study spaces at home, healthier relationships with the people around, fairly good mental space among many other factors.
I teach my house help’s kids in the evening because they aren’t able to attend any of these classes since March and are missing out on a lot of time and studies. The kids dearly miss being in a classroom with charts and maps on the walls but they also miss out on virtual sessions with powerpoint presentations. My mother tells me of a distant relative who had to compromise on a few essentials to buy a smartphone for their younger child because he had to attend primary school online. Besides me, there is my younger brother struggling with audio issues on yet another Zoom class. I think he’ll probably just mark his presence and get back to playing an online game.
The new normal isn’t the most healthiest and equitable way of learning; it’s a reiteration of survival of the privileged. And despite all of this, the screens can never match up to the essence of physically being in a classroom, an almost level playing field.
For the teachers and educators across the country, they have tried their level best to fit into the new methods of teaching – from trying to cope up with internet connectivity, undependable power supplies, managing chores and work simultaneously and the emptiness of speaking to a screen with no faces. To add to these are more structural problems of lack of communication, creating separate modules, teaching practical hands-on courses virtually and baring through notorious disruptions.
Fair to acknowledge, teachers have been under tremendous pressure and stress ever since schools and college went online. For students it might have gotten slightly more comfortable – screenshots in place of written notes, recorded lectures for when they are boring to attend and network issues when you don’t know an answer. But teaching, and learning isn’t just about mere transfer of knowledge and notes, or covering up topics for a subsequent online examination.
Education is supposed to be interactive, and not just in terms of acknowledging with “yes ma’am, no more queries”.
It is an experience – of sharing a meal in the canteen, cribbing about assignments in the college ground, bunking a few classes, sharing fun stories as breathers between long lectures, a few handshakes and a few more hugs. Growing up we thrive on human relationships we form. And schools and colleges provide that preliminary outlet where we can connect, interact and relate to people our age and beyond. These experiences are opportunities to get in and out of trouble, make mistakes, learn and stand up for oneself, without a parent or guardian to guide you through. Second-home, as most students with hints of nostalgia now refer to their colleges and schools as, plays a very important role in one’s growth and development; much as the familial homes. These spaces, for generations, have been institutions whose underlined job was to create emotionally developed and socially responsible individuals.
Simultaneous texting and sending snaps is almost equivalent to passing chits in the digital age. But we are still spending hours trying to absorb facts from slideshows and monotonous lectures that barely hold our attention, cut from the dynamic surroundings of a physical classroom. Online education may be the best choice we have at the moment. But it is almost lifeless.
Dear Colleges, you are really missed.
Feature Image Credits: Washington Post