Students in a classroom | Representational Image | Commons
Students in a classroom | Representational Image | Commons
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The higher education industry is worth over $600 billion.

Let those numbers sink in for a minute. Now, in recent weeks, these classes have shifted online because of a coronavirus outbreak. Without that authentic classroom experience, does it still make sense for students to pay the same tuition fees?

They had already paid thousands of dollars. It’s now time for fee-wapsi. There is a huge difference between online and classroom education, and there is still uncertainty over both the pandemic and their graduation.

Also Read: WhatsApp, Google Hangouts, email — schools, colleges go digital to beat COVID-19 disruption

The classroom experience

Students across social media have poked fun at their professors for struggling to figure out the technology supporting online classes. Dogs, cats and other furry pets also find themselves to be frequent visitors of these lectures. And of course, the internet is a minefield of hacks that can be used to trick your professors into thinking you’re attending these online lectures.

Even if one were to ignore all these distractions and assume that each student is a dutiful one, I certainly don’t believe that an online lecture comes remotely close to the classroom experience.

For starters, it’s all a matter of space. The classroom space forces you to snap out of listlessness and engage. The fear of a professor throwing a random question at you keeps the brain snappy and sharp.

While online platforms do provide the opportunity to each student to be a part of the conversation, classroom spaces are definitely more conducive to interactions, one where you end up learning from your peers as well.

Online classes also assume that most learning happens in the classrooms. Subjects such as anthropology, journalism, performing arts, sciences etc. warrant students to engage and learn from the world outside the classroom.

Also Read: Relief for India’s overseas students, govt cuts 5% ‘tax at source’ Budget proposal to 0.5%

Residence fee refund inadequate

Some academic institutions like Harvard University, Smith College, Tufts University and Duke University in North Carolina reportedly said that they would refund students for unused rooms. Moreover, some universities helped their students to take plane tickets back home.

While cutting down on the cost of residence fees might serve as respite to some students, most universities intend on keeping up their tuition fees. It also comes as no surprise that tuition fee is more expensive than residence fees.

According to College Board, out-of-state students at public universities pay an average of $26,820. The private school numbers will astound you even more. Students at private four-year schools pay an average tuition of $36,880. The sky-rocketing prices of higher education abroad, especially for Indian students is a larger, more difficult conversation.

Also Read: Kashmiri students stuck in Bangladesh won’t be brought back to India

Pricing an experience

Paying over $26,820 for online classes is plain unfair. Another sobering reality of this price is that academic institutions have knowingly or unknowingly put a price on classes.

This price assumes that you’re solely paying for an hour of interaction with your professor. Academia isn’t an hour-long window, it is a lifestyle.

Students living on campus get an opportunity to explore this lifestyle, which is usually burgeoning with sports, debate, student government, music, art, dance and what not. How can you put a price on that?

Many students in India aspire for the overpriced education abroad, out of which most of them rely on scholarships and loans to pay their fees. Reducing their hostel fee or helping them get a flight back to India due to the coronavirus crisis brings them little respite. They are paying the biggest price of all.

I may be giving into my socially constructed ideas of a classroom, but it is the only tried and tested ways of making students learn. You could either be sitting under a tree or in an air-conditioned room, there’s more to learn from the teacher student dynamic than the teaching itself.

Views are personal.

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