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Higher Education in the times of COVID-19

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Anup K Singh

The Higher Educational Institutions have to develop innovative strategies to distribute students into small groups and engage them in various academic processes says Anup K Singh, Director General, Nirma University, Ahmedabad in a conversation with Elets News Network (ENN).

A pandemic like COVID-19 occurs only once in several centuries. Unfortunately, when it happens, it disrupts the human life drastically. It stuns and stupefies people at large and leaves them helpless and hopeless. In addition, it changes economic, social, political, and developmental paradigms prevalent in the different parts of the world. Today the humanity is caught unaware and scrambling for finding effective survival and growth strategies. What are the answers to long-term challenges posed by this pandemic?

The future of the human race depends largely on high quality education and health. Education is the spirit of the mind, whereas health provides the elixir to the body.

Higher education – like several economic and social activities – has suffered severely from COVID-19. Teaching and examination activities have been hampered. There is no telling when regular academic activities will ensue. Admission processes are delayed. Most unfortunately, placements of students have either slowed down or revoked, creating despair and dismay for the youth.

Also read: Santhosh Ram Chary: COVID-19 can make e-learning go viral

Peter Drucker – the foremost management thinker – is attributed to have said that the modern university is a relic and will disappear soon. His prediction did not prove true for many decades. Nevertheless, the modern university is poised to get its new Avtar. Higher education has been affected by the corona pandemic in three ways. Firstly, higher education professionals have realised the inevitability of online education. Previously, classroom learning and online learning were like water and oil, and they hardly mixed. Online learning has now been found a valuable tool that is going to stay in higher education forever. On- campus teaching and online teaching are meeting and merging like never before. Of course, many efforts are required to make this conflating more effective. Better communication and information technologies are needed; teachers need to be trained to optimise the online teaching-learning process; students have to be more efficient self-learners; and, governments are required to change the regulations to facilitate higher education institutions (HEIs) in enhancing their impact.

Secondly, the HEIs have to develop innovative strategies to distribute students into small groups (say 30 and below) and engage them in various academic processes. Thus, we are heading towards a paradoxical situation. While students will attend online lectures in large groups (say 100 to 500), they would also do other academic activities (tutorials, lab work, simulation, career development, etc.) in numerous small groups. It implies that the HEIs have to invest massively in equipment, facilities and production of digital learning materials. In the future, learning would not be counted in terms of class credits – the clock hours that students spend in the classroom – but in terms of learning credits – the hours the students engage in learning units.

Thirdly, examinations and assessments have to be redefined and be treated as learning. There will be a greater need for more assessments, so that learning is assured. At the same time, it cannot be – and should not be – a source of stress. It has to be as natural and smooth as learning.

A new paradigm will emerge – slowly and steadily. Sense making and agility will assist academics in developing the new paradigm of higher education. It also implicates that various HEIs must collaborate together and design new teaching methods, redefine and rework assessment techniques, and plan and develop new modes of learning. Long back, Lord Buddha presciently observed: Only change is permanent.

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