15 Jul 2021 18:16 IST

How institutions can help students caught in the eye of the Covid storm

Schools and colleges will need to factor in Covid learnings and build bandwidth-light digital systems

The second wave of Covid-19 in 2021 has been severe and widespread across India. It has affected all aspects of our life including education at all levels. The impact particularly on students without connectivity or without appropriate devices, and on students from educational institutes that have not been able to transition effectively to remote teaching has been large. The situation has been further accentuated for students who have lost their loved ones or those whose families have suffered job losses or economic hardships. The impact of the pandemic hasn’t only been in the academic realm but has also been psychological and emotional.

The pandemic has particularly affected students who were at critical stages of their education, such as- those in class 12, those who are about to compete for jobs or those seeking admissions or having got admissions to Indian or foreign universities recently. Students preparing for competitive exams for admissions have also been affected. The impact may vary from having to live without sports or time with friends or missing out on time at a campus to less rigour in the academics, being forced to push laboratory and workshop work to some future time, being unable to travel for education abroad, to being unable to find a job or losing a year. Some of these impacts affecting quality of education and employability may indeed be large scale and long term.

Immediate plans

Students need to assure themselves that this shall pass and do the best they can as they prepare for life on the other side of the pandemic. They need support so that they can focus on what is in their control. They retain the option to use the time available for reflecting on their life goals, connecting with family members better and for acquiring knowledge and skills. A lot of skills can be acquired through self-learning and using the resources available today. Those who use the current times well will emerge comparatively better positioned to take up opportunities that will unravel after the pandemic.

The educational institutes have a major role to play so that they can provide education to the students to the extent possible and also prepare themselves for imparting education after the pandemic in the short, medium and long term.

In the immediate term, the institutes need to maintain continuity through remote delivery and provide guidance to students and parents. They also need to utilise the time and keep the faculty engaged through e-learning module development, building internal processes, and faculty development.

In the short term, as the students return gradually, schools and colleges will need to build awareness among their teachers and staff and train them to help the students resettle. Parent-teacher meetings, examinations, seminars, hobby classes, cafeteria, lab-work and sports activities will all need to be adjusted/ modified keeping in mind the student well-being. There will also be need for screening, responding to students with symptoms and modifying infrastructural and digital facilities and communication facilities on campus. Depending on resources available, schools would need to transition to safer/ low-touch systems such as facial recognition possibly with built-in thermal scanners, approach-operated doors, speech-controlled lift controls, and lumen-sensing light switches.

Effective crisis management

Over the longer term, to prepare themselves for any future disasters, the educational institutes will need to build bandwidth-light digital learning systems, including asynchronous learning systems that run on low or intermittent bandwidth for students who may be in low bandwidth zones. They will also need to develop learning delivery mechanisms that do not require personal devices. Governments may take a lead in developing these approaches at an overall level.

There might also be a need to include mandatory courses in personal hygiene, improving immunity, social skills without proximity, using technology, social distancing among others. Many of these will need to factor in learnings and experiences from Covid-19.

While the government will need to proactively design policy, regulations and safety nets, schools need to re-design and re-imagine their delivery models and communication mechanisms. The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in an unprecedented situation that warrants immediate and effective response from the government, educational institutions, students and community as a whole.

(The writer is Partner, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India LLP.)