As the academic session commenced in March 2020, the educational institutions were deserted in the wake of the outbreak of the covid19 pandemic. The decision to close all the educational institutions including the universities had been taken to contain the spread of deadly virus.
Amid the closure of the educational institutions, the homes eventually became the classrooms with teaching taking the virtual mode.
In Kashmir, it was a new experience for students and teachers besides the parents as well. It was a challenging situation to not let the academic activity discontinue.
The government of India issued various guidelines to shift the mode of imparting education from offline to online. It was done to compensate the academic losses of the students and keep them in touch with their studies. But in the Valley there was another challenge namely the non-availability of high-speed internet which now continues to remain suspended for over 17 months now.
Yet it did not dissuade the teachers, students and their parents from becoming part of the new system. As per the UGC directions, the exams of mid semesters were conducted through online mode due to which the students developed a “culture” to continue with the same system of exams for end semesters.
Besides attending online classes in all the semesters, the students adapted the new system to the extent that they started protesting to demand online mode of exams as well.
“We learnt a lesson from this situation that life has to go on whatever the situation. Same was the case with academic scenarios across the world including Kashmir,” said Dean Academic Affairs Kashmir University (KU), Prof. Akbar Masood.
He, however, said that the paradigm shift in the mode of education from offline to online came with its positives and negatives as well. “First complaint was about the slow speed of the internet and also most of the students had no access to smart phones. Our students live in far flung areas and it was difficult for them to absorb in the new system of education. But ultimately it sustained for this academic year,” Prof. Masood said.
With the time, shifting of offline education to online became a policy decision of the Government of India (GoI). Directions were issued from time to time to adopt the new system of education throughout India including J&K.
The colleges and university completely shifted to online mode of education with teachers delivering online classes and compilation of video lectures as well. The college and university websites turned into a lecture bank as teachers continuously updated the websites with lectures for their students.
Academicians, however, say that it was an unprecedented experience to conduct classes online for the entire academic session this year. “Even if the students seemed happy with online sessions initially, but gradually I could feel a sense of fatigue setting in,” said Dr Suhail Ahmad, professor at Government College for Women MA road Srinagar.
“One constant complaint was about slow and unreliable internet. It was not surprising to see the unease among students as they struggled with 2G speed,” he said.
Dr. Suhail said that under such circumstances, prolonged online education has taken its toll on students as there was a palpable change in their behaviour.
“I just hope we see resumption of offline class work after the vacation. I am sure it will make students feel much better,” he added.
Besides the college and university level, the students in schools including primary classes had a new experience of the online education system amid the constant ban on high speed internet.
With no hope of resumption of offline classes, the school education department also remained upbeat with the preparation of online video lectures, compilation of study material for all classes from primary to higher secondary level students. The directorate of school education went a step ahead and delivered classes on Doordarshan and radio as well.
“This shift from offline to online mode provided an opportunity to the teachers to reach their students. Despite many challenges including lack of network connectivity and non-availability of smart phones students, we made this new experience a success,” said Umar Rashid Bhat, a teacher from Baramulla district.
Despite the shift from traditional learning to e-learning, it helped to engage students with the learning process albeit with some problems. “It has its own limitations and problems because teachers don’t get in direct contact with their students,” Bhat said.