As Delhi University tries to move classes online, not everyone has option to follow

Written by Sukrita Baruah
| New Delhi |

Published: April 20, 2020 1:17:52 am

Students stranded in Delhi without resources, others in their villages with limited connectivity — as Delhi University tries to move online during the coronavirus outbreak, the rollout is proving to be difficult and uneven.

Virat Tiwari, a history student at the university’s Swami Shraddhanand College, had gone back to his village in Uttar Pradesh’s Pratapgarh district for the Holi break on March 9. He did not know he would have to remain there indefinitely with the lockdown that was announced thereafter. Virat is now at his village without his books, with little clarity on how teaching and learning is to unfold.

“My department has not begun online classes so far. We are just getting files of readings on our WhatsApp group. I don’t have a laptop or any way to print these, so I’m having to read these difficult texts on my phone. The network is quite poor, so I have to go to the roof to download these,” he said.

DU is a vastly heterogenous university with a large number of constituent colleges, all operating under varying conditions and with different resources, and a diverse student body — economically, socially and geographically. While Virat’s college, one of the varsity’s rural campuses, has not begun online classes in full swing, other colleges have.

A third year B Com (Honours) student at Shri Ram College of Commerce, one of DU’s premier colleges, has been having classes over the Zoom app regularly, but said that attendance is limited.

“In a class size of about 50, there are around 20-25 students in any given session. Our teachers and the college understand that everyone might not have enough connectivity, devices or space at home to be able to attend all the time, so attendance is not mandatory. There seems to be an understanding that a show of authority won’t work in this situation. They are also creating handouts and sharing those on Google Classroom and our Whatsapp group, and we can send them our queries,” he said.

Shivangi, a student of Janki Devi Memorial College, an off-campus college, has only been able to attend three online classes in the last two weeks. She is facing difficulty getting adequate network even as a resident of East Delhi.

“The classes are around an hour long and we have two or three classes per day. The internet requirement is very large and it is a lecture we are attending, so if there’s any network problem we can’t understand what the teacher is saying. There haven’t been more than 10-12 students in our class of 50 in any of these sessions,” she said.

N P Ashley, who teaches English at St Stephen’s College, emphasised that the online methods are a way of “managing”.

“Only 30% of what students learn in college is from classes. The rest are from conversations with their peers in the college space, discovery through browsing the library and so on. In this extraordinary situation, we are trying to make do. I am trying to interact with my students through assignments for which they will have to engage with the text and with me. I have been sending them recorded video clips which they can access at their own time. Before beginning the classes, I had also spoken to all my students individually on call for 15-20 minutes to know where they are and to personalise this exchange,” he said.

Rajesh Jha, a teacher at Rajdhani College, who has been seeing limited attendance in his online sessions, also pointed at the informality of these. “We are engaging through various means — sending study material, responding to queries on WhatsApp, e-mails and calls. It is difficult to ascertain why a student does not attend a class. Perhaps, they found the other means sufficient, they might have other siblings attending online classes at the same time, it could be a lack of space at home,” he said.

Some students find themselves in the difficult situation of being stuck in Delhi without resources. Ajit, a history student of Deen Dayal Upadhyaya College, is from a village in Jharkhand’s Palamu district and lives in a rented flat in Madanpur Khadar. He conducts tuition classes for school students in the area to earn enough to pay his rent, but now finds that means exhausted as well. He is attending his online classes even while trying to find a way to retain his accommodation.

“I didn’t go home for the Holi break because it was too short to go all the way to Jharkhand, but the lockdown was imposed before I could leave. Now that I haven’t conducted any tuition classes after March 21, I haven’t been able to pay my rent for this month. My landlord has given me time till next month, but I still have no earning. I need to go back to my village,” he said.

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