New Delhi: The Ministry of Home Affairs issued an advisory last week to all private individuals using the Zoom app for meetings and video calls, alerting that it is unsafe. Since then, a number of private schools that had been using the app for online classes have started exploring alternate ways to teach students.
Due to the nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, the central government has asked all schools to start the academic session 2020-21 online. Zoom has so far been a popular app for this, since it allows a large number of participants to join a video call at the same time, and is free to use for 40-minute sessions.
Many schools ThePrint spoke to said they are still using Zoom, but are simultaneously trying to find other means of conducting classes.
For example, Hina Desai, principal of Mumbai’s Birla Open Minds International School, said: “The school community is aware of the online app glitches. We need to be alert towards any data theft or for any unwanted material our students may get exposed to from any app that we use. Though we are still using Zoom, we are exploring other similar options which are user friendly and reliable”.
Others said they use multiple platforms for their classes, and not using this particular app would not derail classes.
Schools were in a rush
According to Alka Kapur, principal of the Modern Public School in Delhi’s Shalimar Bagh, schools had to adopt Zoom because online teaching is a very new concept in India and teachers did not know how to go about it; they just adopted the app in a jiffy.
“Schools have blindly grabbed whatever web seminar opportunities they could find to ensure that the pace of education does not falter. Zoom being the most popular amongst the community, many schools have adopted it as a means of communication with students,” Kapur said.
“Little did they know Zoom would prove to be a fatal decision because of data theft, laptop, computer systems hacking and uncontrollable traffic of predators,” she added.
Kapur said after the news about Zoom being unreliable spread in the teaching community, schools began exploring other options like Microsoft Teams and Google Meet. Her own school uses Microsoft Teams, besides making recorded content available.
“The Indian government has also introduced a new website, www.saynamaste.in, where people can hold their business meetings. It is safe and secure to use this application on your devices,” she said.
Swoyan Satyendu, director of the ODM Public School in Bhubaneswar, said their IT team had flagged issues with Zoom before the government’s announcement.
“Before starting the virtual classes at ODM Educational Group, our IT Team did a proper survey about the options available to us. The team flagged the school management about potential dangers pertaining to Zoom App even before the government’s announcement, and we instead opted for Google Meet for our virtual classes, as Google seemed a safer bet when it came to digital privacy and ensuring cyber security for our parents,” Satyendu said.
“The unpreparedness of Zoom to handle this surge in traffic presents a very big opportunity for cyber theft.”
Satyendu added that some other schools in Bhubaneswar have also started to switch from Zoom to other online platforms. “These schools started with Zoom initially but were quick to consider other options and make transitions,” he said.
Still using Zoom, but ensuring security
Schools that are still using the Zoom app say they are following all measures to make sure there is no compromise on the security and privacy of students.
Ameeta Wattal, principal of Delhi’s Springdales School, Pusa Road, said: “One just has to be careful… We have been using the app for over a month now and we have not faced any problems. However, we have been using several platforms for online classes, not just Zoom.”
“As many of our children had already enrolled in Zoom, we did not have the choice to shut it down immediately. Rather, we formed strategies to use this app more securely and efficiently,” said principal Uttam Singh.
“We continue to update our passwords on a regular basis to mitigate the chance of hacking. Also, we ensure that no third party member is getting in during an active session.”
Singh added that the school also held a parent-teacher meeting over the app, held a discussion with the parents, and assured them that it is taking care of the children’s security.