West Bengal’s Engineering Students Require State’s Help to Access Alternative Learning Platforms During Lockdown

During prolonged lockdown on account of Covid pandemic, socioeconomic life across various strata of the society has been adversely affected. Students are no exception. Apparently, they appear delighted being off-the-study due to lockdown, however, with passing time, depression & boredom are grasping them. While majority of students are apparently sorted not having to appear for any examination during this time as per the guidelines of the Government of West Bengal, a significant proportion of them are anxious about their future. They’re also worried about the State Government indulging in conflict against University Grant Commission.

As a socio-political analyst and ex-student of Faculty of Engineering and Technology, Jadavpur University, I felt interested to know how’re the Students of Engineering & Technology in different State-aided Universities of West Bengal being able to learn their lessons & cope up with studies in this phase. I found students of different universities of West Bengal being practically left without any curricular guidance during this prolonged lockdown as I had talked to them to get a feel of their perception of the current scenario. From the students’ feedback, it was evident that the State education became paralyzed due to lockdown. Majority of students learnt nothing as they got no practical hands-on guidance & spent the lockdown period unfruitful. Though they are apparently happy to remain study-free, they’re anxious deep within mind.

Based on my observations, I communicated via email to the Principal Secretary of Higher Education of the Government of West Bengal, Shri Manish Jain, requesting him to pave some alternative path of learning for State Students during Lockdown. Government should not feel complacent about apparent happiness of students on not having to appear for examinations as they’re, in reality, tensed about their future. Examinations be there or not, organized learning opportunity must be provided by the Universities & Colleges as that is the basic task of them. Moreover, as the State of West Bengal is indulging in conflict with UGC regarding conducting semester examinations etc, moral responsibility of the State towards her students remains further higher so as to keep students unaffected by such political conflict.

From my interaction with students, it became comprehensible that regarding theoretical studies of various other courses too, students were directionless. Online classes were being taken in the month of March, April which didn’t continue for long as many students couldn’t join due to network errors while Professors faced troubles in conducting online classes. Since then, lockdown period became completely unproductive for persuasion of studies. In such circumstances it is required that the Government of West Bengal be proactive to facilitate some alternative arrangements so that students of State-aided Universities & Colleges under them may utilize the lockdown period better if they so wish. Students must be provided with alternative options to learn, at least for the pandemic period which may intermittently last for next at least a couple of years.

Government of West Bengal has notified all State-aided Universities stating guidelines about examinations for different semesters. That notification shows clear direction about how to grade students & how to conduct examinations, if any. Students, apparently, are satisfied by such notification as it ensured that they won’t have to face hurdles of examination to get promoted to the next semester. However, talking to them intimately, I have realized that students are anxious deep within mind not being able to learn anything effective in this period. Students are concerned about their future prospects. A number of final year students of Engineering & Technology have expressed their anxiety that their Degree this year may not have any value in the job market in near future as all of them would pass without pursuing studies & without appearing in any examination. Hence, addressing the concern of students I have kept a few suggestions for the Government of West Bengal which, if implemented, would deliver genuine benefits to the State’s students.

Given below please find my suggestions to the Principal Secretary of Higher Education.

• Please kindly arrange so that the State aided Universities & Colleges under them may join platforms like Coursera, Edx, Udemy etc. in such a way so as to enable their Students to join the online learning platform free of cost.

• Please note that the free online courses offered by such online platforms are of basic level which doesn’t help the Engineering & Technology Students to any significant extent.

• However, useful, high-quality courses are provided by them which, you may be aware, are pretty expensive which the Students of our State cannot normally afford after bearing the College expenses.

• However, if the Universities & Colleges centrally subscribe to these high quality online platforms & enable their students to join their courses free of cost, it becomes tremendously beneficial for students.

• Please also note, I have learnt that a specific University/College of Kolkata has already arranged so that all its students can join an ordinarily expensive online learning platform free of cost.

• I expect Government of West Bengal to take necessary steps to enable all its State-aided Universities & Colleges under them so that they may extend the benefit of high quality online learning to their students free of cost.

• Students of certain streams of Engineering & Technology such as those of Computer Science & Engineering (CSE) & Electronics & Telecommunication (ETC) may tremendously benefit from such high quality online courses. Some of the said platforms like Coursera also offer one-to-one doubt clearing & interactive sessions.

• However, though online platforms like EDX, UDEMY etc., as I learnt, do not offer scopes to Universities & Colleges to enroll under them but in such cases Government of West Bengal may consider negotiating with them.

• I have learnt that India’s own online platform, NPTEL has a good examination pattern but their course profile is not impressive.

• Thinking comprehensively, a good number of students preferred Coursera as the online platform of choice.

Government of both State & Centre needs to address that the core task of students’ welfare is letting them learn well & excel in their respective fields of studies. As the country is dreaming for ATMANIRBHAR BHARAT, quality of education for our students can’t be compromised as quality education is the very basis for ATMANIRBHARATA. However, as it’s impossible to carry on with regular classes in different Educational Institutions during this pandemic, a responsible Government must pave alternative path of learning for students which they’d be able to utilize while sitting at home. State’s Engineering & Technology Institutes should be enabled to subscribe online learning platform like Coursera and/or others so that they may extend the benefit to their students & willing students may utilize the opportunity to learn. Apart from Engineering and Technology, students of basic sciences like Physics Chemistry, Mathematics, Statistics too requires access to alternative learning platforms to be able to continue pursuing intensive & extensive studies.

This is also to be noted that India’s own online learning platform NPTEL has been constructively criticized by a group of students as having a good examination pattern but lacking useful high-quality course material. ‘NPTEL’s course-content should improve its standard’, said a Final Year Student of a Makaut-affiliated College. Moreover, attending individual student’s academic queries is a pre-requisite for intensive learning which is lacking over NPTEL platform. While offering online learning platforms to students is necessary, encouraging quest for in-depth knowledge & innovative, out-of-the-box thoughts is pre-requisite for ATMANIRBHAR BHARAT NIRMAN. Quality of education in West Bengal, as I learnt, has seen a substantial downfall as majority of academic queries raised by students to their professors are remaining unanswered. While, for successful making of self-reliant India, academic queries of students needs to be satisfactorily cleared by the teaching faculty, that is lacking in majority of the Institutions. Professors are focusing more on formatted lessons than on inquisitive, intensive studies.

I expect Government of West Bengal would work out solutions to the above mentioned issues. Student community of West Bengal requires State-aided facility to join high-quality online learning platforms so that education-deficits due to Covid pandemic as well as due to qualitative deterioration of the State’s teaching faculties may be compensated for building up a successful future of the State.

Debjani Bhattacharyya

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