Life was just starting to seem a bit normal when a lot of us got washed over again in the deadly second wave of Covid-19. People all over India are struggling to breathe, and some even to get cremated after death. Let’s take a second to think about the students out there. While some had started going to their schools and colleges for the offline mode, now they’re all back in front of their laptops and “Am I audible now?”s. With the second wave being more deadly and closer to home, let’s look at some of the problems faced by the students.
Being reduced to circle-shaped entities on the laptop screen
Talk about alienation from the self! The average day of a student is spent oscillating between their bed and their laptop. In an online class, students are mostly reduced to their usernames and logins, with a decrease in interactions and activities that usually are a big part of education.
There is also the stress that teachers and professors take to make their class more interactive, as for them it is almost similar to talking to a blank wall. In addition, the excess screen time has enriched the lives of students with regularly timed headaches and disturbed sleep patterns. Many students end up sleeping less than the required time and at odd hours, which can, in turn, be causative factors for multiple serious health conditions. This definitely is one of the problems faced by the students.
One of the problems faced by students today is exam stress. With exam season around the corner, students all over India have to forcefully divert their attention from deaths of people they know, gruesome reports of what’s happening in the country, and the health of their loved ones to their study materials and give exams, which sounds absurd when you put it that way.
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Sure, exams have always been a part of our education system, but in exceptional cases like the one at hand, the system can be relaxed across different levels, with weightage given to other modes of assessment, so that a student who has maybe lost a parent or a friend doesn’t also have to go through the stress of attending an exam in the same week. This will also help students maintain their grades, which will take another load off of their minds. Moreover, excess stress can lead to serious health conditions like heart disease, depression, diabetes, and so on, so the matter demands urgent and closer attention.
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Anxiety thinking about the time lost, the resources lost
School or college isn’t just about education alone. There is a lot of experience that you can gain from these places that will change you as a person. This typically includes your friends, the hostel, and other programmes like fests. In most cases, such programmes are organised to better equip students with life skills, a development that goes amiss in online classes.
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Apart from these, there are also other resources that are typically available on campus, like the women’s cell, libraries, sports centres, and so on, all of which are not made accessible in many institutions right now. In the beginning, these problems faced by students seemed like trivial issues, but the online mode of learning has been going on for more than a year now.
That is a year lost from a very deterministic and formative period in the lives of students, and this thought of lost time and opportunities creates anxiety among them, as they begin to question if they are allowed to reach the full potential offered by their course.
Insensitive professors and administration
Let me start this section with a disclaimer: this does not apply to all teachers and institutions. A lot of them have tried to be sensitive to the issues students face and have come forward with relaxations in terms of assessments, activities, and so on, and we cannot really overlook the stress they are subjected to in order to meet requirements or deadlines. But there are still a lot of them out there, who see their jobs as mere jobs and act in insensitive, and sometimes extremely inhumane, manners.
All of the things mentioned above call for extraordinary measures to be taken, given the extraordinary situation at hand. No one can expect things to go on as they did pre-pandemic and expecting them to do so is a very dangerous thing to do. Many institutions boasted about their competence in handling education during the pandemic, but this was often measured based on how fast they finished their assessments, not the actual performance and mental health of students.
In the rush to finish off semesters, they forgot that not everything is a race. These dire situations have to be adapted to so that the students and professors don’t burn out. But the responsibility cannot be put entirely on the institutions as the Government also has to make exceptions and relaxations regarding education in such cases.
The often ignored privilege in education
This aspect of education can be exemplified through the example of that one professor from IIT Kharagpur who terrorised an English preparatory class meant for scheduled caste, scheduled tribe, and differently-abled students, where she verbally abused the students for not turning their camera on, and for not standing up for the national anthem. Let’s just keep aside the conversation on the second point away for now as it would need more time, and dive into the first point.
First of all, it is evident that this was a class of underprivileged children, to gain an understanding of English – a language which can almost be used as a scale to measure privilege. The internet, let alone a high-speed connection, is in itself a privilege and is related to accessibility in terms of income and the region you stay in. Calling out students using terms like “bloody bastard” for not switching their camera ON is therefore extremely problematic. The professor also mentioned how a student asking for leave due to the death of a grandparent was not acceptable. This, again, is problematic as it is sort of like demanding a machine-like emotional reaction from a young person. Obviously, the death of a family member, especially during this stressful time, will have affected the mental state of the person.
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Mental health experts have increasingly come forward these days talking about the importance of taking care of ourselves. Taking a few days off in such a situation should be normalised. Instead, the professor called out the student in front of the class and equated her absence to incompetence. We cannot help but connect her reactions to the pool of students in the class and realise the possibility that it probably had to do with class/caste differences. The experience might have been traumatic for many students, and this might even affect their subsequent learning of English in this and future settings. The incident also revealed the hypocrisy of many in academia, as the professor herself had published a research paper on social inclusion earlier.
What Needs To Be Done (And Heard)
All of these problems are faced by students all over the country. Many don’t enquire about the mental health of students in such a situation and most parents are completely unaware of the issues their children face. Some might even joke and say how easy things are for this generation – they don’t have to go to school and can just chill at home all day! And when students do reach out, many people respond by ignoring those cries for help and view them as rebellious teenagers and young people who just don’t want to study.
The solution is not to do exactly that and be more sensitive to their issues. Maybe a change in the system will take a long time, and might not even happen. But at the very least, you can be an ear to their problems.
The country is going through a major health crisis, let’s just at least try to be there for each other.