In Retrospect 

Assessing the aspects, reach and limits of online education amidst covid-19 in the past two years 

By Amir Suhail Wani

IN the midst of COVID 19 pandemic as we still are, we are yet to come to terms with the full blown impacts of this catastrophe, despite some immediate effects having started to show themselves more explicitly than others. The magnitude of disaster and its fallouts has baffled minds across the globe in an attempt to mitigate its impacts and modulate its cascading after-effects. Economies crumbled, businesses collapsed, poverty surged, family dynamics changed, societies readjusted and the world on the whole went for realignment. COVID shook the world in ways unimaginable and measures like lockdowns and closure of economies backfired and their negative outcomes submerged whatever positive impacts they could have. People lost their jobs, mental health crisis reached its nadir, unemployment seeped in like anything and a host of tangible and intangible forces rushed in to ruin human lives in multitudinous ways. In this array of life shattering episodes and paradigm shifting incidents, the fate of education has been the miserable of all and academia has suffered in ways beyond cognition. When COVID made its appearance, educational institutions, in line with the general norm, closed down and students had no option but to stay confined to their four walls, cut-off from mainstream academics and distanced from schools, colleges and universities. Authorities and institutions concerned were prompt to understand the ruinous effects this distance of students from their educational institutions could have on the psyche and overall educational status of students. In a bid to neutralise these deterring impacts and to rope in students back to their academic activities, the concept of online classes was floated and students with access to android phones and high speed internet started attending online virtual classes. In this article, an attempt will be made to evaluate pros and cons of online classes, to situate the growing trend of online education in the larger context of educational psychology and to investigate parallel avenues that can be brought into motion to impart education while at the same time not violating COVID appropriate behaviour.

Let’s first try to understand what impact the physical absence of students have had on them before investigating the crests and troughs of online classes. An impression shall not emerge from this line of argument that closure of schools was uncalled for or that the safety and health of students should be compromised and they should be called back to schools. Instead the intent is to estimate the damage that absence from schools thwarts upon students, to assess the hazards of virtual education and to seek remedial measures, if any, to deter these ill impacts and to explore alternatives to online classes. Studies after studies and a range of surveys have established beyond doubt that confining students to their homes, their long term absence from schools and loss of physical and in person contact with their teachers and classmates has brought them a trauma like feeling. They have not been able to come to terms with their physical absence from schools and the experience has been benumbing and antithetical to their psychological well-being in tangible and intangible ways. But is this the end of it? Is mental health, the much talked about dimension, the only one to have mortified? There is actually a spectrum of issues which have sprung up during the last year or so, the time for which schools have remained closed. Is it even recognized that for the past year, the time for which students have been forced by circumstances to be confined to their homes, they have metamorphosed into sort of zombies and their receptivity to life and its impulses has been benumbed. The process of socialization, essential to any individual, and more so for students in their evolutionary phase, has been so badly hit that students perceive of themselves as islands, cut-off not only from society, but the process of socialization too, which their schools and educational institutions facilitated and catalysed. In absence of means of socialization, children are finding it increasingly difficult to assimilate in society, to participate in social dynamics, to conceptualize themselves as active and meaningful members of the social whole. This seemingly trivial episode doesn’t stop here, but much like the snowball effect, it is potentially capable of translating into a social phenomenon of catastrophic order spatially and temporally.

Classrooms provided to students with a referential frame to evaluate themselves, gauge personal abilities and lacunae and to devise strategies to polish talents and plug faults. With this frame of reference gone to doldrums, students have turned complacent, their abilities buried under the debris of solitary confinement and the spirit of positive competition reduced to naught. Classroom provided with motivation and driving force that propelled students towards excellence, academic self-criticism and an oeuvre of overall development. But confined to screens, as virtual classes have made them, each student has become a self-referential entity, detrimentally losing the spirit and sense of self-evaluation, self-esteem, introspection and co-existence. The classroom setting provided students with an ambience to receive their classmates with positive receptivity – competing, cooperating and collaborating with them as the situations demanded. But absence from schools has trapped them in the smog of self-reflexivity whereby they have developed the nauseating sense of repugnance and repulsion for the other – this is what psychological studies have went on to demonstrate. On larger scale this is translating into social dysfunction – a state, as stated above where students at large feel at odds with society and fail to emerge as social beings.

Learning disorders with their entire span are on the prowl in wake of online/virtual classes and productivity is on the decline. The impact of this shift in teaching – learning paradigms has been witnessed due to the ongoing pandemic where the physical presence of teachers in a classical classroom setting by their virtual presence on mobile screens isn’t difficult to comprehend and gauge. Classroom accountability has been taken over by on screen voyeurism; focussed concentration on black-board has been hijacked by multi-tab mobiles where students straddle between goggle, you-tube, social media and online class tab at the same time. Early exposure to mobiles, as necessitated by online classes has prematurely and erratically exposed children to social media, uncensored net surfing and online content too impertinent, too damaging and too lethal to their mind and body at these early stages of their evolution. Not to speak of diminution of mental evolution, all these possibilities associated with online classes have negatively structured and deformed the clay-like mind of students, making them addicted to social media and exposing them to vulnerabilities they are too naive to handle. With access to social media arises the possibility of cyber abuse – either being its perpetrator or a victim and in both the cases the outcomes are devastating and disturbing. Students, who accidentally land on Face-book stalk or discover themselves being stalked and this opens them to challenges and possibilities they have no prior understanding or training to deal with.

The span of ill-effects of physical absence of students from classes in favour and switching on to online classes doesn’t stop here in more immediate and perceptible hazards, but the range of externalities extends beyond and adopts ways and manifestations difficult to explore and understand. The very act of attending school streamlined and anchored students’ lives and sustained order and discipline in an otherwise chaotic and haphazard pattern of living. A well defined and coherently laid out time table imbued students with punctuality, regularity and consistency and all these values shaped their lives to overall order and perfection.

Views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

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Amir Suhail Wani

The author is a writer and columnist

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