Greeting freshers in the midst of pandemic

The process of admission of students in different universities of Kashmir Valley is going on. Universities are reopening to orient newly admitted students. To keep students, faculty, and supportive staff safe, a number of challenges are to be confronted. Universities in this part of the country vary in structure and size and should differently find out (in collaboration with health departments) how to execute SOPs while adjusting to meet the distinctive needs and aspirations of students. Operations be determined by what is possible, realistic, suitable, and tailored to the needs of the students.

If universities plan and prepare for reopening in-person, they should develop a mechanism to protect all stakeholders from the spread of the virus and prioritize SOP modules that tackle covid-19 outbreak and its related fatalities.

There are various considerations for universities to protect students and other stakeholders.

Universities work through interactions and the frequent and recurrent interactions signify a higher risk. Universities may frequently communicate related risks so that stakeholders can decide their attendance, especially those who are at higher risk.

All stakeholders within universities should follow SOPs to protect themselves, especially the proper use of face masks, social distancing, and hand and health hygiene. The protection is imperative in a blended mode of teaching & learning where students participate in-person in classes or in labs which are impossible to deliver & complete distantly. In addition to this, faculty should organize & arrange students to join in small classes that permit individuals to stay spaced at least 6 feet away from each other. Students should also avoid out-of-class social gatherings. They must apply and support a strict adherence to alternating schedules notified by the concerned faculty or department to create undersized groups of students and reduce their contact with others. Students and faculty should not share objects unless it is necessary. Universities should also fix a responsibility to regularly clean and disinfect frequently touched areas within the campuses.

Unless all required measures are taken to curb the virus, students and faculty should avoid the use of public or institutional transport or other high occupancy buses with limited airing that necessitate having sustained close contact with others.

Universities should develop Sharing Information Systems (SIS) with other partner institutions for daily reporting of cases and necessary information be shared such as absence among students and staff, health centre traffic to spot and counter the pandemic. It should also find ways to promote healthy behaviours that reduce the spread, uphold a healthy campus environment and operations, and sketch out what can be done if someone is infected.

If it is decided to have any version of in-person classes, before coming to campus, students and faculty who have been infected with the virus or have been potentially exposed to infected one/s must be encouraged to follow all guidelines, protocols, and SOPs. A policy may be developed to encourage unwell or infected people to stay at home without fear of castigation and ensure that students remain cognisant of the offers provided by the university for virtual learning options.

The university must make arrangements for hand washing at every visible place within the campus. Besides this, workable hand sanitizer dispensers should be installed in different places. It should also guarantee accessibility to supplies that endorse healthy hygiene practices.

If class work in-person is obligatory, various modified classroom arrangements are needed. We should ensure that gap in the seatings ( both in rows and columns) is made at least 6 feet. We may also think to host smaller classes in larger rooms. We also can adjust learning stations in smaller groups as applicable. In those areas of the curriculum which can be transacted through online, teachers should think to offer distance learning to help reduce the number of in-person students. We can also use the same procedure to the people engaged in experimental & skill learning opportunities in labs, and occupational building activities.

During crisis times, the university library can supplement students in their scholarly endeavours. Library professionals can play an important role in helping students. They can help to trace down information as per the student requirements, act as a knowledge disseminator through various information pools. They can help students locate relevant e-resources, e-contents,  related links to the concerned course. Library professionals should develop full collaboration with the faculty and should assist them to identify the e-resources available in a particular subject so that students can be educated about the available resources accordingly.

Till the pandemic situation is curbed, teachers should transact education through online mode. Although, a significant number of teachers struggled to learn new techno-pedagogies to teach in online classes. Now, it has been seen that they are spending more time to skill-up themselves with the required digital mastery in virtual classrooms. They are now able to use the internet and various apps to develop digital skills for online teaching. In virtual teaching, teachers are now demanded to bring curriculum reconstruction and teaching content designs. It behests teachers to provide enriched human and non-human resources and pertinent animated and unanimated study-materials. A teacher should not now act just as an instructor but a content developer and a designer of the online curriculum also. The teacher should develop a good content-communicating skill too in virtual teaching. He should learn to extend his relationship with students beyond the embedded physical classroom and for that, he should use group-based tasks and encourage collaborative learning to develop students’ social-emotional skills in virtual settings. Besides, the use of various incentives, creating opportunities for play-based activities, listening to student’s feelings, and valuing their opinions may be underscored as plaudits tips for learner’s progressive development. Teachers now ought to be realistically more supple and flexible towards students. They should also play their role as counsellors to settle the issues of students related to their mental health.

For those students who are from far-flung areas, hostel facility should be made available with all the precautions. Proper screening and testing should also be made mandatory in these hostels. The protocols and SOPs should be followed and arrangements for face masks, hand washing, and sanitization should be made available in building entrances, corridors, restrooms, and dining areas of these hostels. Universities should also encourage online mode of payment if canteens and cafeterias are kept open for students within the campuses.

For any support or information, each university should designate an office to be in-charge of responding to the Coruna Virus. Staff training on all safety protocols is also needed in universities. Universities should renew the considerations on recognizing symptoms of Coruna Virus, screening, and testing and if any student is found infected, the contact tracing is needed.

To conclude, the entire world is passing through a very tough time and collective and collaborative efforts are needed to defeat the deadly virus.

DR. MOHAMMAD SAYID BHAT is Sr. Assistant Professor in Department of Education at Central University of Kashmir.