“Pandemics only truly end when the next pandemic begins.”
- Dr Michael Ryan, WHO Emergencies Chief
The World Health Organization downgraded its assessment of the coronavirus pandemic on May 5th, 2023, saying it no longer qualifies as a global emergency. What it translates into is that it’s time for countries to transition from ‘emergency mode‘ to ‘managing‘ COVID-19 like any other infectious disease.
The COVID-19 pandemic affected all of us in ways that we are yet to comprehend. Many of these effects were visibly seen and registered. However, it also affected us in many intangible conducts. It created an unprecedented scar on our mental health. The pandemic affected everyone irrespective of their nationalities, gender, societal status, or religion. It also poured light on many of our societal incompetence and inequalities, especially in the field of education and employment.
Lockdown, which was our emergent response to this global pandemic, became a societal divider. There were some who were in support of it and some who could not possibly afford it. Soon enough, staying ‘locked down’ became a privilege rather than a necessity. In all the lockdown phases proposed by India, right from Lockdown 1.0 to Lockdown 5.0, one common sector that faced strict compliance was the education sector. And for obvious reasons.
Educational institutions are a breeding ground for such viruses to spread, and understandably, they were to be locked down in all earnestness. According to the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), there are 993 universities listed on the portal. Catering to roughly 32 crores of students who were forced to stay put during these lockdown phases in India. This drastically affected and disrupted their education journey. Collectively the aftermath of such a global pandemic could be seen in varied aspects mentioned below:
The Aftermath for Students: The primary defence for the COVID-19 pandemic was lockdown. The concept itself was utterly new to us. Implications of this lockdown could be seen in varied aspects of life. Prominently the isolation that came with it. Students, who normally would go about meeting their friends every single day, were now forced to stay put. We cannot underestimate the positive impact of social networking on students’ overall personal growth. With the lack of such a strong social touch, many of the students felt secluded.
According to a study published in the Asian Journal of Psychiatry, over 53 per cent of Indian university students suffer from moderate to extremely severe depression. Many students felt anxious about their future. Some lost their self-confidence, and some even said goodbye to their very first relationships. We cannot begin to understand the help and support our students need in order to survive post-pandemic.
Students are facing difficulties in coping with the post-pandemic era. Many are now feeling hopeless about their prospective future. Students who had plans to study abroad came to a halt. Opportunities for internships and on-field training also became lean. There was a huge question mark on the student’s integrity during online lectures as well as assessments. Many professors agreed that students were cheating during online examinations. This created a discouraging circumstance for honest students.
Then there was the socioeconomic divide. As the universities had to shift to online education, students were required to have the basic infrastructure needed for digital learning, such as laptops, basic internet facilities, and software support. Students who belonged to rural areas found it extremely difficult to adapt to these advancements. Education, more so ‘Digital Education,’ became a privilege. The digital divide became more prominent.
On the contrary, this mode of delivery pushed both university lecturers and students to adapt to the digital mode of education, creating a paradigm shift in the teaching and learning process. Universities could now reach more students worldwide, which could result in an increase in enrollment and internationalization.
The pandemic showed that universities could now offer the quality education that they provide in person from the comfort of the student’s homes. With the pandemic still scarring Universities, hybrid learning and blended learning approaches could be adopted that combine both physical and digital learning.
The Aftermath for Professors: The global pandemic shook the entire normalcy we had going for ourselves. The education system was caught off guard, and its conventional practices that had been functioning for years were tested harshly. The pandemic urged universities to be creative and adapt to survive, causing them to change their educational delivery methods, assessment practices, and learning outcomes.
Adhering to social distancing protocols, universities shifted from physical classroom learning to digital modes of delivery like online learning, hybrid learning, or blended learning to keep students and staff safe. The pandemic’s impact forced universities to redefine their assessment and evaluation practices.
With the onset of Covid-19, the universities had to shift to online assessments. University professors who had not taught online before switched to online delivery mode. It was survival of the fittest. The traditionalist faced difficulties in switching to online mode. The idea that you cannot see your students when they can see you was very invasive for some.
In contrast, others looked at it as an opportunity to be more creative. They could now reach the students residing in the remotest areas. Technology has become more prominent and critical than ever before, and universities are now looking for ways to leverage technology to its fullest potential.
Furthermore, technological adoption is likely to increase as more universities adopt digital modes of assessment and learning. With advanced technologies such as Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) gaining relevance day by day, universities could use them for imparting knowledge and exploring new teaching methodologies.
In Conclusion, Both the main stakeholders of the education sector, viz, Students and faculties, were put to the test during the pandemic. While much is still to unfold, the Indian education sector created a benchmark for many developing countries in terms of adapting to the ‘New Normal.’
Many universities have been taking initiatives to create a compassionate eco-system for our students, such as hiring a full-time counsellor, organizing mental health awareness programs etc. However, they could definitely do more. Higher education institutions must see mental health as a prerequisite for educational progression.
The pandemic provided an opportunity to rethink the traditional education models and create new multidisciplinary and sustainable models that cater to the evolving needs of the universities. New Education Policy (NEP) 2020 has certainly laid grounds for such advancement in education. It would be fascinating to see how the students and universities pave the way forward.
About the Author:
Ms Anuradha Patil, PhD Pursuing, UGC-NET, MBA, B.Com, is a Lecturer at D Y Patil International University, Akurdi, Pune.
She has over seven years of teaching experience and has published research articles in the Management domain.