05 Aug 2020 15:22 IST

It’s all about creating order in chaos

A primer on how to smartly manage studies affected due to Covid-19

The disruption caused due to the pandemic is not just limited to the health sector or the economy. It has affected other aspects of life bringing with it changes, that will define the new normal at least for the foreseeable future. Education has been affected not only in India but across the world, due to lockdowns and other preventive measures.

Many schools and colleges have shifted their operations from classroom to online virtual meetings, while many more are preparing to switch to digital modes of instruction. End term exams of various schools and university boards have been postponed, cancelled, or are being conducted through alternative means while admission processes to various graduate and postgraduate programmes in India and abroad have been altered or delayed.

Consequently, there is a lot of apprehension and anxiety among students, which in turn is adversely affecting their studies and confidence. From a long term perspective, though, the chaos has accelerated the process of digitisation of educational institutions, and therefore, students need to develop agility and dynamism to easily adopt and sail through this phase of turbulent transition.

Teething Troubles

Mid-session disruptions

The sudden enforcement of lockdowns and closure of classrooms affected the regular flow of learning and the rescheduling of exams has contributed to an altered momentum of academic proceedings where gaps in learning are now to be covered rapidly.

Technological troubleshooting

With sudden amplification of the role of technology, the students need easy access to technological resources, such as smartphones and the internet. They are also required to be on their toes to develop technological dexterity, otherwise, they would be left out.

Stress and uncertainty

With no consensus on how things will turn out in the future, many competitive examinations, employment opportunities, admission procedures in educational institutions have been hazed by the clouds of uncertainty, triggering anxiety among the aspirants.

Maintaining safety

Even when the schools and institutions open up for examinations or other academic activities, students need to follow safety guidelines thus altering the normal learning or exam-taking experience.

Field-work/tactile learning

As classrooms go digital, simulated environments are being created, but these still can’t replace practical learning experiences like field trips, lab experiments, and outdoor activities. Moreover, peer to peer learning is being limited due to academic campuses being closed.

Sustaining the impetus

The students need to quickly respond to these issues to enhance their skills and regain the momentum of their knowledge building, and I propose the following steps that may be useful:

Case 1: If the students have access to technology

If a student has access to a decent smartphone/laptop and reliable data connectivity, a world of online learning opportunities and enriching experiences await. Apart from attending the regular class sessions online, they can supplement learning by enrolling in online courses, viewing explainer videos, and use social media as a portal for group discussions and studies with peers.

Case 2: If students face serious connectivity issues or they don’t have access to technology

For the ones who don’t have access to the internet/smartphones or face serious connectivity issues in remote learning, they can still continue their learning by connecting with peers through telephone calls, conducting group discussions through conference calls. They can consult their teachers/mentors regarding the problems they face and have course materials delivered to them. They can further access online classes and educational videos being broadcast on TV channels like Swayam Prabha and Gyan Darshan, dedicated to delivering educational content. Moreover, Doordarshan Kendras are broadcasting about two-and-a-half hours of video lectures from virtual classes through their regional centers in local languages, while the All India Radio broadcasts 30 minutes of educational content daily.

Case 3: Aspirants for competitive examination/ admissions in institutes in India and abroad

This is a curious case! On the one hand, there is a lot of apprehension about the successful conduct of online exams, with delays and other issues while on the other hand, it has also provided the aspirants the time to practice and reinforce their preparation. Some universities are accepting applications from foreign students on a provisional basis, some are conducting self-assessments. Many universities have come up with partially virtual/distance programmes (in which the students can start learning remotely and join the campus later when it is suitable). Some apps, such as, Duolingo, are providing English language proficiency test services at home, as an alternative to TOEFL and IELTS (which are also in the process to conduct online tests from home).

Reflect and Resolve

With patience, positivity, and the right approach, students can come up with unique solutions that suit their situation and emerge stronger.

Strategise and develop an effective study plan

Since the challenges the students may be facing would be unique, it is of utmost importance for them to prepare their own customised strategy for studies. They should introspect and carefully analyse the threats and opportunities, and prepare a plan, playing on their strengths, while smartly managing their weaknesses. They need not only need an effective plan but also need mechanisms to track their progress, minimising deviations.

Practice to perfection

Students can make the most of this opportunity of studying from home to prepare notes/download transcripts of video lectures and other study material. They can take free mock tests/online quizzes and make use of various study portals to clear their concepts and learn difficult subjects. They have got the time to reinforce the foundation of basic concepts of various subjects and delve into the subjects of their interests to develop specialised expertise.

Catch up on what has been missed

If due to network issues or other gruelling problems, the students who have missed a few online sessions or learning gaps have been created during the transition to online mode, the students should prioritise to cover those gaps with the help and assistance from the instructor and peers.

Skill up for the future

The future of jobs would require a new set of employability skills from the candidates, such as, complex decision making, negotiations, as well as comfort with extensive use of technology and data analysis skills. Thus, students should invest their time in developing analytical and soft skills through innovative methods like engaging in stimulating discussions, educational video games, and board games like chess, scrabble, spell-bee with family and friends to strengthen skills and bonds!

Avoiding distractions

With more exposure to the Internet, students have become more susceptible to distractions than ever. They need to come up with ways to minimise distractions like mindless scrolling through social media posts, or binge-watching online shows. First, they need to be aware of their Internet usage patterns to come up with effective solutions. They can also use distraction management applications like the ‘Forest’ app.

Finally, do remember that a healthy mind resides only in a healthy body and therefore, the students need to exercise regularly and keep themselves physically fit as well. The current crisis may have brought adversities, but with resolve and resilience, students can use the opportunities that have arisen in disguise, to prepare for a better future. When life gives you lemons, making a refreshing lemonade out of them is an art, and it is about time that the students mastered this art.

(The writer is Director, IIM Indore.)

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