During the lockdown period our experience at JIS University shows that the students should be engaged in attending online lectures and webinars.
Closure of academic institutions has a catastrophic impact in the world of academics and on society. Some 60 million of students across the globe have been driven out of their university spaces, and professors are confined to their homes.
Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 outbreak there is ambiguity and disagreement about what to teach, how to teach, the workload of teachers and students, the teaching environment and the implications for education equity. Possible difficulties that the policy faces include: the weakness of the online teaching infrastructure, the inexperience of teachers, the information gap, the complex environment at home, and so forth. To tackle the problems, educational institutions are trying to continue education through online mode. However, online education is not for all learners in Indian Scenario.
OECD found that the students who used computers had both lower reading and mathematics scores. The Reboot Foundation released a similar study in June 2019. They too found a negative connection between each nation’s performance and their students’ use of technology in school.
Seemingly unimportant ones like the shift to more and more digital will kill the skill of handwriting, even drawing by hand. Digital teaching may kill books. Additionally, however we may use technology and artificial intelligence, students of Science and Engineering will still need labs to perform experiments and medical students will still need cadaver. These are only some of the many problems of digital learning in addition to stresses caused on the students due to lockdown.
Perhaps a more important but easily neglected issue is the psychological impact on children, adolescents and young learners. Stressors such as prolonged duration, fears of infection, frustration and boredom, inadequate information, lack of in-person contact with classmates, friends, teachers and relatives work adversely.
In most of the cases there is lack of personal space at home and family financial loss can have even more problematic and enduring effects on learners. When they are in their colleges, parents may discuss family problems. Now the children are always at home and parents might be discussing the problems in their presence. Owing to COVID-19, many people may lose their jobs. This not only creates tension among the guardians but also among the children, especially the adolescent ones.
The final semester and pre-final year students are not sure when they will complete their examinations and earn the degree. Coupled with it is the anxiety of placements. Those who received ad-hoc appointment offers through online interviews are not sure whether the job will finally be offered to them. Even if offered, whether they will be allowed to join within a time limit is doubtful. All the above factors coupled with psychosocial stress caused by home confinement could further aggravate the detrimental effects on learners’ physical and mental health, which could cause a vicious circle.
Remedies: Guidance and counselling
To mitigate the consequences of home confinement, the government, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the community, educational institutions and parents need to be aware of the downside of the situation and act to effectively address these issues immediately. Parents should be a helping hand in their educational journey and travel with them with true inspiration. Parental encouragement and care can play a crucial role in this critical situation. Few important roles of the parent can be as follows.
1. Oversee child’s activity: It is important to have an eye on the child’s activity at home. This can help the parents to know about the mental status of the child and take preventive measures if any abnormality is observed.
2. Read together: Doing things together with parents gives them a sense of support, moral courage and confidence. Therefore, parents may read or discuss some important and interesting topics together. Reading the text books of the students together may not be possible for most of the parents.
3. Provide a pleasant atmosphere: Parents should make sure that the kids are provided with a peaceful and pleasant atmosphere at home. It is good to avoid discussing family problems in a kid's presence and should not create a mess at home with unnecessary quarrels. Both father and mother should consider the importance of their career and give them adequate moral support.
4. Maintain parent teacher relationships: They should not skip the parent teacher meetings (only online now) and interaction sessions. Free and frank discussion with the teachers can help the parents to know the problems of their wards.
5. Share personal experience: It is good to share some of the life experiences with the kids at this critical time. This can include both positive and negative experiences to help them understand the importance of learning. They can be inspired with the success stories of parents to learn about the importance of hard work and how it pays them back.
6. Fitness: The students and for that matter all citizens need to remain physically and mentally fit. To achieve fitness, everybody should practice yoga regularly, practice pranamayam, meditation and if possible dhouti and neti also which I practice regularly. Parents should not only pursue their children to do it but they should also practise.
As the Vice Chancellor of my University, I addressed a large number of students and their parents. I prepared a video of my own yoga practice, distributed to the teachers with a request to mail them to all the students. I not only told the guardians to see that their children practise yoga etc. everyday but also efforts should be made to keep them mentally and physically fit. They should be provided a balanced diet within the limitation of their means.
We understand that they have many problems, especially due to lockdown. Their income might have reduced. Some parents are wary of losing their jobs. They have to make efforts to overcome this crisis. However, the problems should not be discussed in the presence of the children to burden them mentally.
University: To balance this situation, Universities can provide a proper Guidance and Counselling programme to make them able to adjust with the surroundings and their studies. In addition to innovative courses for a better learning experience, promotional videos can be useful to motivate children to have a healthy lifestyle at home by increasing physical activities, having a balanced diet, regular sleep pattern, and good personal hygiene.
During the lockdown period our experience at JIS University shows that the students should be engaged in attending online lectures and webinars. In JIS University and in JIS Institute of Advanced Studies and Research (JISIASR, Kolkata), we organised about 100 webinars on Health Science, Data Science, Sensors and Material Science, Computer Planned Synthetic, Animal Ethics to name a few. Each of these webinars has been attended by about 100 students on an average. We organized online cultural programmes, quiz competition, ideathon (competition of innovative ideas) etc. to keep the students fruitfully engaged. A large number of online placement interviews were organized and many of the final semester students got placement.
Moreover in short term courses, a large number of students from different parts of India and also from Europe and even from the USA have registered. Many students have applied for doing internships at JISIASR on practical problems, including the post pandemic COVID-19 scenario. When the students are engaged to solve such practical and real life problems, automatically they may come out of psychological distresses.
The writer is Vice-Chancellor of JIS University. He did his B.Tech. (Hons), M. Tech. and Ph.D. from IIT Kharagpur followed by a postdoctoral course from Colorado State University, USA. He headed the Agricultural and Food Engineering Department, IIT Kharagpur from 2005 to 2008. In 2010 February, Prof. Mal joined as the Vice Chancellor of Chhattisgarh Swami Vivekanand Technical University, Bhilai. In 2015 after his retirement from IIT Kharagpur, he joined as the first Vice Chancellor of the newly established JIS University, Kolkata. He is a member of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers and several professional bodies. His laurels include the most outstanding text book award, commendation award and fellow of ISAE, first position in M. Tech., Ford Foundation Fellowship for postdoctoral training, Lifetime Achievement Award from the 33rd World Environment Congress, another Lifetime Achievement Award from the Indian Water Resources Society and Best Vice Chancellor of the year-2013.
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