Education in India at the time of COVID-19: planning ahead

New Delhi,  May 30:

Covid-19 has emerged as the single biggest challenge that the modern world has faced in many decades. With a majority of the countries under preventive lockdown, several functions of everyday life have taken a hit. Education is one of them. Children being most susceptible to infections and educational institutions being crowded places where social distancing goes for a toss, colleges and schools were the first to be shut down.

India Today reached out to Mr. Suneel Galgotia, Chancellor, Galgotias University and spoke to him about the future of education, universities and colleges in a country where people will have to, over time, learn to live with the coronavirus.

Can classrooms remain as congested as they are normally? How can they be decongested considering India’s poor education infrastructure?

I believe that during the COVID19 pandemic, the shift from classroom teaching to online teaching for the delivery of knowledge has been remarkable. Many private universities in India such as ours have quickly adapted to online teaching and learning via video conferencing platforms and learning management systems customized by universities.

Classrooms in universities and colleges, post opening of the lockdown, will have to adhere to the norms of social distancing and students and faculty will have to ensure that the guidelines given by the competent authorities are implemented and duly followed. Extensive sanitisation of classrooms and common areas will be the new normal in educational institutions.

I also feel that the government has been extremely pro-active in managing the epidemic and will be equally conscious of the infrastructure requirements needed for practicing of social distancing in educational institutions.

Shift system will need to be implemented to take the load off classrooms, and limitations will need to be imposed on the number of students allowed to be present in each class. Institutions will be required to remain open for all 7 days of the week to make up for the missed classes.

Around 25-30% can also be taught online mode to reduce physical contact. Universities with a strong IT infrastructure will be able to adapt to this new way of teaching.

If we talk about Galgotias, our students are being exposed to more than 40,000+ online lectures, 12,000+ e-learning resources, 3,000+ virtual classroom instances, 4,000+ online assignments, 1,000+ virtual videos and more than 500+ virtual programming labs.

Mr. Suneel Galgotia, Chancellor, Galgotias University

What about activities like transportation, dining in the mess, living in the hostel, sports, and extra-curricular activities?

Talking about extra-curricular activities, I am happy to share that while other universities were struggling to figure out how to transition to the digital world, Galgotias University became the first university to conduct India’s first online fest where more than 10,000 national and international students participated and got the opportunity to showcase their talent in 50+ events- all thiswhile sitting at home. This is the first time in India that an event on this scale has been executed online.

As far as transportation is concerned, management teams in institutions will need to ensure proper distancing and there will be a need to regulate and rework the number of students allowed in a vehicle at a time. All vehicles that will be used for students shall need to be sanitized and their overall numbers increased to ensure smooth flow of operations and maximum hygiene.

All major sporting events will have to be cancelled in the immediate future. However, institutions can possibly allow individual sports or those that involve less than 5 people, such as squash, table tennis, tennis, golf and badminton. Team sports such as cricket, football, basketball will need to be reviewed and rules of social distancing applied before they are allowed to be carried on undeterred.

Apart from this, staggered meal timings in the mess/canteen will need to be ensured during dining hours and mess management teams will need to maintain a proper waste disposal mechanism and hygiene in sensitive areas.

What will be impact on laboratories in science streams?

Lab activities are done on open source simulation software around the world and in India, virtual laboratories and fully interactive simulations are used for practical assessments. They allow the students to perform experiments, collect data and answer questions to assess their understanding. These virtual labs combine animations, illustrations, and videos to support and convey key information, and engage, inform and educate students in a manner that is very close to actual experiments.

Our students from Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, Civil Engineering, and also Microbiology and other basic sciences are using virtual labs and gaining knowledge without compromising on the quality of education.

How do you think examinations will take place and exam centres managed?

Examinations are important to assess the understanding levels of students but there needs to be a radical change in the way they would be conducted henceforth. I believe the conventional ways pen and paper exams would need to be replaced online assessment tools equipped to handle any format of questions and answers. This will not only reduce contact of students in exam halls but will also help faculty assess the student online from any location. This process is not only safe but also effective in times of a pandemic and beyond. Online software are also now available with provisions to tackle issues of impersonation, unfair means and various aspects of cheating so as to ensure fair examinations for all stakeholders.

With a recent study by a top research company showing that online education will take a leap with numbers reaching almost 10 million by next year, institutions that do not adapt to technology will need to upgrade their IT infrastructure ASAP, not just for classes but also for examinations and assessments.

 

How are teachers upgrading their skills?

This pandemic has given us many difficulties but with every challenge come an opportunity. The faculty at Galgotias, apart from teaching students online and taking their assessments and presentations, is also upgrading its skills by taking part in various virtual development programs, digital workshops, online certifications courses, etc., and accessing several open courses from the best institutions. This is being done to ensure that the lockdown does not affect their delivery and their knowledge not only increases but also help them grow.

At Galgotias, we have always had tie-ups with several subject matter experts to ensure that our faculty is trained and assessed from time to time to remain in sync with the latest in the field of education.

How will hostel accommodations be managed and social distancing and safety ensured?

I feel hostel rooms will need to be changed to single capacity with independent AC units installed in each room. Sanitization of the common areas and activity rooms will have to be done on a regular basis. Gyms and other activities involving more than 4-5 people will need to be avoided till the situation gets better. Regular medical assessments of each hosteller and 24/7 medical helpdesk for quick response in case of emergencies/symptoms will need to be set up, with a protocol in place to ensure correct handling of cases.

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