Resume offline lectures and practicals, demand schools, colleges and universities

With the New Year ushered in, schools, colleges, universities and educational institutes have raised the issue before the state government of resuming offline lectures to kickstart the academic year. Currently, educational institutions in Mumbai at all levels have shut down offline classes and are conducting regular online lectures as a precautionary measure against the COVID-19 infection.

Schools under state, central and private management as well as independent and international boards have shifted the entire educational pedagogy to the online mode since March 2020 when the lockdown was imposed. Now, after more than nine months of the lockdown, schools are demanding the state government to allow them to restart offline classes in phases.

Offline lectures are necessary because some students are deprived of access to online education, said Radhika Shirodkar, a senior teacher of a Kandivali school. Shirodkar said, "Despite nine months of online education, I have observed there are some students who do not have access to virtual systems. Also, the attention span, interest rate of students, initiatives taken by parents to allow children to attend online school and financial ability to afford online facilities is less as compared to offline schooling."

It is high time that we start offline classes in phases at the school level, said Frank Chettiar, a teacher of a south Mumbai school. Chettiar said, "We cannot rely solely on online education. As the number of coronavirus cases in the city is under control now, schools should be allowed to resume offline classes in phases by maintaining all the COVID-19 standard operating procedures."

Colleges, universities and higher education institutes said students need practical exposure for certain bachelor degree, diploma, master and doctor of philosophy (PhD) programmes. Sunanda Mahajan, a professor said, "Certain courses like social work, engineering, architecture, fine arts, medical, mass media and others need practical teaching and learning. These courses cannot be entirely taught online. We will have to resume offline lectures and practicals in degree colleges and universities soon to avoid academic loss of students."

Though universities can run courses virtually, students are losing out on exchange programmes, interdisciplinary learning, onground cultural, literary and sports activities and outreach events. Benjamin Castelino, a second-year Bachelor of Fine Arts student said, "I have not attended a practical art workshop where I can learn abstract sketching and painting since March. I cannot understand all the intricacies of art via virtual classes."

University education is not just about academics but also about exchange, community interaction, social outreach and on ground events. Zareen Ahmed, a first-year Master of Social Work student said, "I need to work on the field in my course of study. Universities and colleges should start offline lectures and events in phases now that we may have a COVID-19 vaccine soon."

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Free Press Journal