The Covid Pandemic has driven some of us out of our offices and roads, but ironically has required a huge majority to fend for themselves virtually on the streets. In that process, students of all socio-economic classes, have been “locked out” of their educational institutions during the “lockdown”.
The academic community rose up to the challenge with whatever resources it had and started zooming in education using popular online platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft teams with some added support through Facebook, Whatsapp and Google Meet. Concurrently, Whatsapp groups were pressed into action to reach across to parents and students for information, sending of notes and often to send out recorded video lectures and audio files.
Overnight, faculty and teachers learnt the art of speaking to mics, to computer screens and got a crash course in technology. We talked to almost more than 2 dozen faculty members and almost all of them without exception missed the classroom and the interaction with their students. They also had numerous concerns about how the entire learning experience was shaping out at the end of students and their inability to get a clear feedback on this from their students.
A very clear digital divide and therefore access resulted in either complete denial or only patchy reach of these classes for lakhs of students. Students from low income backgrounds had either none or only limited access to computers, smartphones and internet connectivity. Therefore education also got rationed, but in this case only to those who were digitally well-off.
Not that digital connectivity made things absolutely great for even those relatively well-endowed. There were issues of space, privacy, peace and not every household had multiple devices or multiple rooms to have uninterrupted access. Students felt cloistered with almost zilch facilities for interactivity with friends, classmates and faculty.
Video streaming was not always encouraged, lest pictures of homes becomes the objects of comparisons. Many students were facing everyday and sometimes special situations which triggered some sort of mental stress and fatigue which also hampered earning. There is also a sense of realization that online teaching will not offer any escape or refuge from mental, emotional and sexual abuse.
Online learning in this situation is not a choice right now, it is the only option. To be fair, educational institutions, teachers, governments, policy makers, NGOs have all tried to rise to the occasion by collecting video, audio content and made it accessible to the extent possible through Whatsapp groups of parents, YouTube and at times through dedicated television and radio programs so that the less-privileged would not lose out. But there is a real fear that despite all efforts, there will be lakhs of students who are going to miss out on various facets of education, some on quality, some on quantity and some altogether. There are lakhs of migrants walking on the road and therefore those migrant children have ironically become “school-less”, besides becoming homeless. Let us also not forget that apart from the digital divide, the possibility of a gender divide also cannot be ruled out. With girls staying at home not only will they be required to take on a greater share of household chores but also have very limited access to an already shared digital device in the family.
Given all those above situations, one felt that a reasonable opportunity must also be given for students to give their feedback on their experience of online learning and how it affects them. This survey given that it is web-delivered cannot possibly include those who do not have any digital access, but we felt that at least let us get an idea from those who are to some extent digitally empowered. If we can get their feedback, we know that tomorrow even if we manage to reach out with digital access, we may well find out that the learning experience of digital education is at best going to be fragmented and substantially impersonal. What is more, as early results seem to indicate that online learning at the school level was correspondingly rated higher than at graduate and post-graduate levels. It would therefore indicate that the intervention of both parents and teachers may have contributed to this difference.
This survey, is totally anonymous, with no contact details asked, and is targeted at students aged 12 years and above, and who were required to proceed with their classes online in the wake of the Covid pandemic.
It is offered both in Hindi and English, and takes a maximum 10 minutes to do owing to its multi-choice answer options. If you wish, you can also use it as a telephone survey to reach out to students who may not have internet connectivity or access to a digital device. That would allow anyone to slip easily in in the role of a citizen researcher as well.
This is a public interest initiative for the student community on behalf of the academic community. You can contribute by sharing widely with the student community.
Note: The survey has been closed