As a pandemic situation grips India like rest of the world, State after State are closing down all avenues for people to gather. State Governments and Central Government alike are issuing advisories to shut down country, schools, colleges, gyms, theatres and events and rightly so. As India reached the critical Stage III of pandemic, we are at a tipping point where lack of care may take the virus into the entire community starts spreading the disease point at which arresting the growth may become challenging. Italy has reached that point as disturbing news coming from there suggests. The Government of India has taken pre-emptive measures and the panic stricken masses are actively taking preventive actions.
The question now arises among many others: How higher education system cope up during the shutdown of institutes of learning and the remote working orders issued in many workplaces including centers of excellence.
Last week, the University of Texas shut down abruptly as a confirmed case of COVID-19 was discovered. What began with UT got then passed on to Princeton University with as many as million higher education students literally evicted from campus. While the hysteria hasn’t reached such glaring proportions in India, all higher education institutes have either called off activities or moved online following their global peers.
In many ways, higher education will continue to be a segment least affected by covid-19 purely because of the age group which it caters to. While online education and accountability for the same can be shifted to students in higher education, the school children who are too young can’t be. Being an exam season, most exams are postponed for higher education students as well as primary education students alike.
With teaching staff in work from home mode, the prevalence of online class will increase out of necessity which is a positive development. A number of education apps are already dominating the education segment while higher education exactly didn’t come under their ambit. While school education, syllabus and quality are expected to be uniform depending on boards, higher education should be less about classes and rote learning and more about interactive lessons, research and reflections on learning.
Higher education unlike other education can’t be commoditized and should come as a by-product of mature mind pondering over the lessons. An ecosystem of research and an environment of learning is of essence which separates a Harvard or Oxford from the brick and mortar college next door. The pandemic has given a body blow to the age old institutes running by clock and finishing off the graduations in allotted time. It is time for reading. It is time for reflections.
While young kids in primary school enjoy their holidays owing to covid-19, a higher education student gets an opportunity to quarantine himself and ponder over the questions in life, the career he chooses post education. Youth is time where the mind wanders. As long as the mind wanders in positive direction, a temporary jolt to education system world-wide would be a boon in disguise. Who knows how many higher education students a decade from now will reminiscing about their learning during the time of coronavirus? A classic book on the theme of love during the times of cholera might get replaced by learnings during the times of covid-19.
The higher Education system would be amongst the least affected and easiest to cope compared to the jolt to economic activity due to the virus which will take long to recover. As Italy is set to report cases higher than even China, Iran is critical too. The number one foreign destination for higher education in India namely USA is already panicking and so are the students there.
As irony would have it, it is the tough times which brings in profound learnings. Higher education system is far less vulnerable to such shocks as economy is.