A cellphone and a good Wi-Fi are all one needs to get classroom education now
A cellphone and a good Wi-Fi are all one needs to get classroom education now|Representational image
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COVID-19 and the 'new normal' in higher education

COVID-19 crisis has brought many issues to the fore like brain drain from Northeast India and knowledge dispersion over online classes

Amlan Jyoti Das

Amlan Jyoti Das

Guwahati: The COVID-19 pandemic has surely brought in a time of new normal and the field of education has seen and experienced a total turnover. From daily social contact classrooms to online classroom education tools, both the students and professors alike are turning towards new modes of knowledge dissemination.

Be it may, one thing that this COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent lockdown made painfully clear is that a vast majority of youths of Gen-Z prefer to get their basic education out of the Northeastern states. With over 30 private universities, 10 central universities excluding the state and deemed universities in Northeast India, students still opt for education out of their states.

The feeling that better job opportunities are in the offing if students study in institutions in metro cities is one of the reasons for brain drain from Northeast India
The feeling that better job opportunities are in the offing if students study in institutions in metro cities is one of the reasons for brain drain from Northeast India Representational image

Professor Sunandan Baruah, Dean Engineering and Technology, Assam down town University, said, “Based on my experience with students from the Northeast, I see three obvious reasons for this brain drain. The first is a feeling of independence from the watchful eyes of the parents. The movement of students is not necessarily because of the dreams of students to study in the programmes of their choice in top universities; the number of such students can be counted at one's finger tips. A major chunk of students is ready to get themselves admitted in any programme they can lay their hands on without even trying to verify whether the institutions they are taking admissions in are even recognised by national accreditation agencies.”

“The second reason, based on my observation, is the feeling that better job opportunities are in the offing if they study in institutions in metro cities like New Delhi, Bangalore, Pune, Mumbai, Chennai, etc, which of course does carry weight. The third reason, which should have been the only reason, is a student’s own choice of programme and universities. Unfortunately, such students will be barely 5% of the total student exodus to mainstream India from the Northeast,” he added.

There is also the issue of visibility of colleges in the Northeast which results in the lack of employment and placement options. “It’s not like the colleges and universities of Northeast provide low quality of education but cities like Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai provide much better opportunities for availing of a particular job,” said Monima Das (name changed), whose daughter is pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in a reputed college of Delhi. This thought is echoed both by parents and students alike.

However, on the home front, universities are already in the fore trying to find out unique methods to make the students in the present scenario ready to tackle the challenges of learning. Many universities have already started their new sessions online through the digital platform. Some universities, on the other hand, are trying to address the issue of such learning techniques and devising new ways to make to shift trends of education from teacher-centered to student-centered and ways to make such classes more engaging.

Team EastMojo also asked Baruah about online classrooms being the new future. He said, “It definitely is. Organisations like the University Grants Commission (UGC) and All India Council for Technical Education has been developing online education portals like Swayam, MOOCs, NPTEL, etc.”

However, this was not the common viewpoint shared by everyone. Joya Chakraborty, who is the head of the department of mass communication and journalism at Tezpur University, said, “Online classrooms need to ramp up even further to be the future form of education. The feedback we get from just by looking at the faces of our students to know whether he or she understood a particular topic remains invisible.”

“Not all students perk up with a query or doubt, we have to goad some of the students to understand the points of the conflict he or she has regarding a particular topic,” she said.

Moreover in a country like India, especially in Northeast India, not everyone has access to a smartphone and even if one does, the issues of connectivity remain the ever big hurdle, she added.

In a country like India, especially in Northeast India, not everyone has access to a smartphone and even if one does, the issues of connectivity remain a big hurdle
In a country like India, especially in Northeast India, not everyone has access to a smartphone and even if one does, the issues of connectivity remain a big hurdle Representational image

Simran Yadav, who is pursuing her degree in Psychology from MIT Pune, recently came back to Assam due to the lockdown. She said, “Assignments, PDFs cannot substitute physical classroom interactions especially in subjects like ours which require discussion with multiple viewpoints and critical interactions which is not possible online.”

Case study discussions with classmates and professors alike are not possible online, she added. She also highlighted on the problem of network connectivity in states like Assam.

Talking with EastMojo, Kalyan Chakravarty, the mission director of Sarba Siksha Abhiyan, Assam, said, “Digital education is intense as it allows you to find out the interests of the students, give you as a teacher to find out things which are interesting and gives you the flexibility of time.”

However, he addressed the point that these digital learning methodologies become a bit detrimental for the underprivileged and so they are in contact with television channels and radio channels who provide the much-needed help in knowledge dissemination.

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