New Delhi: Academic session 2020-21 was marked with disruptions on account of the Covid-19 pandemic — from the closure of schools and colleges in March, to the ensuing rejig in the academic calendar.
To avoid a repetition in academic year 2021-22, higher education institutions across India are trying to work out ways to minimise disturbance in what might be the last lap of the country’s battle against the novel coronavirus.
While India has initiated the Covid vaccination drive, expert estimates suggest that those who don’t qualify in any of the four priority groups identified may have to wait until 2022 to get the shot.
In the interim, many colleges have decided to maintain status quo and conduct the new academic session in a “hybrid” mode.
A consequence of the distancing regulations brought on by Covid, this mode requires only those students to return to campus whose curriculum includes lab or research work.
These include the premier Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), which say they will continue with the “blended model” until further instructions from the central government.
Some institutions have upgraded infrastructure to better support online classes, while others said they foresee elements of this model outlasting the pandemic.
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‘Learning new ways’
The central government has allowed colleges to call final-year and PhD students back to the campus, but the final call to reopen institution rests with states.
Classes for first and second-year students in most courses are still being conducted online, whereas students in the final years of their courses have started going back to campus.
Shiv Nadar University, a private institute based in Delhi-NCR, is among the universities that plan to continue with the hybrid teaching model.
“Shiv Nadar University was one of the first institutions in India that proactively moved to the ‘online-only’ medium of instruction when the pandemic struck, and our model has been very successful in the last two semesters,” said Shiv Nadar University Vice-Chancellor Dr Rupamanjari Ghosh.
According to Ghosh, the university has “embraced a hybrid teaching-learning model that combines the positive aspects of technology with in-person mentoring and hands-on experimentation”.
“Looking ahead, I anticipate Covid-19 will continue to keep the world in its grip for the foreseeable future,” he said.
“We will continue to provide an enabling environment for our research-led multidisciplinary curriculum,” he added. “Our researchers and PhD students who wanted to work in the laboratories have already been on campus.”
At Pearl Academy, a private design college, Prof. Nandita Abraham said Covid “made us innovate and learn new ways”.
“Like Home Studios for our students, some of these ideas may remain in the years to come,” added Abraham, who serves as president at the academy.
“All Pearl Academy campuses have opened labs and studios for students who can come back to college. Faculty are available for mentoring and meetings on campus. Core instruction will continue online until the government allows for classes face-to-face,” she said.
“Even so, we will continue lessons online for the rest of the semester for students who cannot return. We are also setting up permanent classrooms with beamed technology, giving students the flexibility of attending classes from home or campus as they see best.”
Dr Sunil Rai, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Petroleum and Energy Studies (UPES), a private institution in Dehradun, said “education in 2021 is going to be a lot different from what has been seen so far”.
“Stepping into 2021, we are working towards making education even more accessible, inclusive, collaborative, supportive, and sensitive to human needs,” he added.
“At UPES, education in 2021 is going to be a lot different from what we have been seeing so far. Along with degrees, we are going to focus on skills a student needs to possess.”
Waiting for govt instructions
Most government institutions are yet to decide how to approach the coming academic session and are awaiting instructions from the central government.
The central government has plans to constitute a committee to decide the next academic calendar — in light of the pandemic, which has also delayed board exams — for central and state universities that come under the University Grants Commission (UGC) as well as technical institutions that are overseen by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE).
The latter group excludes IITs and NITs, which are directly overseen by the education ministry.
Speaking to ThePrint, several branches of the IITs said they plan to go ahead with a blended learning model for now.
IIT-Madras stated that they expect normalcy to return by July and will be able to call students by then.
“As of now, the institute expects partial normalcy to return in July 2021 and the institute may allow certain classes of students — research scholars, final- and first-year students to come to hostels,” an IIT-Madras official said.
IIT-Guwahati currently only plans to call back final-year students for project work. “Our plan is the same as last semester — classes will be conducted online and final-year students will be called in for project work,” an official from IIT-Guwahati said.
At IIT-Gandhinagar, the classes are being conducted online. However, a decision has yet to be taken for 2021-22.
Officials at IIT-Mandi said they are planning to go ahead with online classes as of now and will wait for government instructions on starting offline classes.
“Ever since the nationwide lockdown was imposed, IIT-Mandi opted for the blended learning model,” Dr Pradeep Parameswaran, Dean Academics, IIT-Mandi, said.
“Regarding starting the offline classes, the institute is complying with the government’s directions and will make a decision as per further guidelines,” he added.
The institute, he said, has set up 15 dedicated classrooms to facilitate online teaching. “Each online classroom is equipped with a computer, a large screen to view students, a collar microphone, a high-resolution web camera mounted on a tripod to cast the presenter’s face, a green board to use chalk for writing, and a high-resolution smart writing pad with a stylus for those who prefer to teach using these devices,” he added.
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