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Challenges to education sector post COVID-19 lockdown

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Post COVID-19 lockdown in India, Healthcare is the most talked about concern followed by Economy and related aspects. Something which we do not seem to be concerned with is education and the impact of this pandemic on the stakeholders. Decision makers aren’t giving the required attention to the importance of tough and immediate decisions in the academic arena. Economy is something which responds quickly (in such situations) and shows signs of revival as and when situation improves. Since too much is being talked about it, I would shift directly to the current and upcoming challenges being faced by students of schools and colleges (both public and private) and the institutions as well.

Students are away from their campuses and schools for about 6 months now and their academic life can be understood by
1)Totally idle
2)A little bit of online classes namesake but not helpful
3) Proper online classes with syllabus, material and exams.

Since the majority lies in category 2, we can conclude that not much is going on with the learning part. Most of the colleges haven’t taught more than 2 months in the semester (Jan-Feb) but have flooded the students mailboxes with demands of assignments and submissions just to keep them involved and keep up the sense of activity. As per normal academic calendar, it should have been the Term 1 exam of another class (in schools) or mid sem exams of new semester in colleges but in reality, end sem exams of previous sem are still pending and school kids have been promoted to the next class with no further learning or serious teaching.

This has not only affected the entire year or 2 semesters but lot a more. Due to late declaration of class 10,12 and graduation results and considering the current academic stagnation and financial crunch, most students have postponed their academic plans to next year an taken an year gap(as per what I’ve seen and heard). Now, in that case, the students who’re naturally going to pass out next year will obviously seek admissions in new colleges for further studies and in addition to that, there will be so many students from the batch of 2020 as well to compete for admissions next year. This will increase the level of competition in government institutions since the seats are fixed and can’t be stretched drastically and in the case of private institutions, job losses, salary cuts, failed businesses will have already discouraged the lower middle class families to further educate their children. This will lead to massive number of students either dropping out of colleges or dropping the idea of higher education. Such students will go out to seek jobs in an already dead and devastated job market. Or in best case if we’re ready to anyhow accommodate these students in our colleges in 2021, there will be double number of students out in the job market exactly in the years of 2023 and 2024(Considering 2 year PG and 3 year UG).

The students who are currently enrolled in colleges aren’t in a condition to pay their fees (5000-1lakh/sem in case of most govt. colleges and 80k-3 Lakh/sem in case of most pvt colleges). Some students are anyhow managing to pay the fees just to save their seat/degree and prior investment and a few have to drop out of college.

The colleges and schools who aren’t receiving regular fees are facing huge difficulties in paying salaries, maintaining infrastructure, acquiring IT infra for online classes, paying EMIs or other routine expenses. They do not have much scope of fee relaxation either (let’s talk practically) or they’ll collapse.

As a student who’s attending proper online classes with books, e-books, proper exams, good internet connectivity and all the required equipments, I still disapprove of online classes as an alternative. 6-7 hours of clases a day; 2-3 hours of daily research for projects, ppts, reports; reading e-books and PDFs on screen itself; attending class group meets online makes it a total of 12-14 hours of screen time a day and that’s 6 days a week. You’re locked inside your home and everything is running at its own pace. This not only causes eye pain, headache, tiredness, postural pains but has a very negative impact on your mental health as well. And this is not me, this is atleast 200-300 students whom I’ve interacted regarding the productivity of online classes.

On the other hand, Government of India has asked banks to give loans to MSMEs so that they revive and create jobs. Now the question is, MSMEs aren’t able to Pay the installments of existing EMIs and are burdened by moratorium, they’re finding it better to shut their businesses and sit home rather than pulling more loans. Job losses and salary cuts have made it impossible for people to make the two ends meet and pay their regular installments of home/car loans. The banking sector is in huge huge danger. If lockdown continues and economic/academic activities do not resume, the impacts will be disastrous beyond anyone’s imagination.

It’s time to unlock. COVID-19 is here to stay. Government should focus on strengthening the Heath infra and increase testing and treatment and try to being all other things on track asap without waiting for vaccine or a miracle. For every other sector, alternative methods need to be worked upon. And in a country as huge as India, we the people will have to take this as a “Jana Andolan” or peoples movement to bring back our normal.

Writer is a JNU alumnus and an MBA student at ICFAI University, Hyderabad.

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