Amid the coronavirus crisis that has affected academic studies across all universities, an expert committee of the UGC has come out with solutions to various issues such as how to conduct exams in universities, how to facilitate higher learning and how to begin the new academic sessions. Prof R.C. Kuhad is Vice-Chancellor of Central University of Haryana and heads the expert committee.
Here are excerpts of the Prof Kuhad’s interview:
Q. What will be the immediate and long-term impact of the corona pandemic on academic studies of students in various universities?
A. Despite face-to-face teaching in universities suspended, studies have been continuing with the help of technology. The question of continuing teaching and learning came before the committee, which I headed, and we were of the opinion that technology can help us in academic activities. That is why the committee in its recommendations emphasized that 25 per cent of the studies should be online. We should take technology’s help in conducting viva-voce tests, in practical demonstrations and other such assignments.
Q: Which form of education is better — online or traditional system?
A. I think at present it would be too early to conclude as to which system is better because we are used to the traditional system. But the present situation requires online education.
Q. The responsibility for the future students rests with you. How are you helping the students in this difficult phase?
A. When this was brought before the UGC committee, it was felt that education institutes will have to move forward in that direction. Being the Chancellor of Central University, I have implemented the Learning Management System with the help of INFLIBNET. With this system, we are helping the students with study material as well as giving them an opportunity to interact with teachers. We are making around 6,000 books available in the library and around 94 teachers are busy preparing video-lectures. I am regularly in touch with the teachers and students.
Q. As the head of the committee, what were the key challenges you faced?
A. The first challenge was: how long will the corona-inspired lockdown continue, then how can we facilitate entry of students into classes and their stay inside the university compounds and also their entry to exam centres while ensuring social distancing? So, we made a plan as per the requirement of the time so that exams are conducted quickly, the results are announced and new sessions are not disrupted for long. Such a system had to be acceptable to all stakeholders at the national level.
Q. What have been the recommendations to promote online education?
A. We have recommended that from the next session, at least 25 per cent components of the syllabus should be taken up through an online system. All education institutes should set up adequate ICT structure, arrange training for teachers and prepare e-learning material so that online education could be made more meaningful. Besides, the institutes where the ICT structure already exists, they are free to conduct online exams.
Q. Do you think India is ready for online education? Is India capable technology-wise?
A. Yes, of course, India is ready for online education. As far as technological development is concerned, here too, India is capable and is continuously working towards strengthening those capabilities. We can further improve our resources by evaluating the present situation. Education institutes with cooperation from within and other private groups can further help in making successful the mission of online education.
Q. What are the challenges in the facilitation of online education?
A. We need to substantially improve the ICT infrastructure so as to be able to ensure good internet connectivity in remote and hilly, rural areas of the country. Besides, we should also improve the basic infrastructure so that in future, the management of universities and exam-related systems are completely online
Q . Education institutes are shut because of the coronavirus pandemic. From an education point of view, how difficult are the circumstances?
A. We have started a helpline offering psychological counselling for students. I am sure we will not only be able to help the students in overcoming this crisis, but also pave the way for their bright future. By doing this, we will be successful in absorbing and giving shape to the Union HRD Ministry’s initiative ‘Bharat Padhe Online’.