There has been an institutional effort to combat Covid-19 through knowledge, technology, and innovation. Institutions have tried to leverage the potential of technology, but there are challenges, and we are yet to fully integrate online teaching and learning in mainstream higher education. There are also limitations with regard to access for socioeconomically disadvantaged students, internet supply, and technical know-how of the instructional design, particularly in rural/ tribal areas. We are fortunate that the present generation of learners are quick to adapt to technology once they have access to it. This is a manifestation of the story of India’s digital growth.
The higher education system has tried to adapt to the crisis. Technology, considered yesterday’s disruptor, has become today’s savior. Right now, various video conferencing apps are providing our higher education institutions a lifeline. But we need to have a robust and multi-faceted response plan involving collective efforts at the faculty, student, and institutional level along with the government and regulatory bodies like the UGC. While the government and regulatory bodies have a role to play at the policy level, the institutions, the students and the faculty must be at the forefront in implementation.
The closure of educational institutions has three different aspects to it— health and safety, the teaching-learning process, and psychological issues. The top priority is to keep our students safe and healthy. Information-sharing and health awareness are vital to keeping students and academic staff safe from infection. While keeping them safe, there is also an urgent need to continue their learning in different ways.
Home learning will help our student community come out of this difficult phase well. The most difficult part has been students grappling with psychological problems due to anxiety and stress with regard to academic losses, exams, and the overall academic calendar. It is very important to maintain relationships and a sense of belonging for the cognitive-emotional rehabilitation of affected students or academic staff. Very early into the lockdown, the UGC proactively constituted a ‘Task Force for Redressal of Grievances Related to the Covid-19 Pandemic’ and a dedicated helpline to handle grievances of the academic community. To reassure the students and to negate any stress or panic vis-à-vis their studies and health, the UGC issued a number of advisories to higher education institutions on the mental and psychosocial aspects we well as the well-being of students.
The ministry of human resource development (HRD) also launched the Manodarpan initiative to provide psychosocial support to students, teachers, and families through a website, a toll-free helpline, national directory of counselors, and an interactive chat platform. A calm, assured and swift response at the individual level of students, faculty, and staff will be key to finding a way through this situation.
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August 10, 2020