Understanding the Challenges in Continuity Planning

POTENTIAL DIGITAL DIVIDE

Given that 394 Universities and 60.53% of colleges are located in rural areas, there may not be sufficient infrastructure in terms of technology (hardware and software), connectivity, continued power supply and other resources required to effectively implement online classrooms. Thus, it may not be feasible for every HEI to conduct synchronous online classes. Even when the universities or colleges may have reliable internet connectivity and stable electricity supply, the physical campuses may not be accessible to faculty due to health related threats of COVID-19. In addition to this, their homes (especially in non-metro, non-tier-1 cities) may not be well-equipped to conduct synchronous online classes.

Further, more than 50% of the total enrolled students are from sections such as Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe/OBC/other minorities. These, along with several others from non-disadvantaged social groups may not have conducive home conditions for learning, and the financial wherewithal to invest in hardware/connectivity to participate in online classrooms. Even when such financial resources are available, the students’ homes may be located in areas with poor internet connectivity or erratic electricity supply, thus hindering their online learning opportunities.

Even for students from the middle-class spectrum, there may be lack of space and resources, and financial limitations to participate in online classrooms effectively. For example, a family with three children may not be able to afford separate devices or separate spaces for all the children to participate in online classes.

INFRASTRUCTURAL LIMITATIONS

Given the poor infrastructure in various parts of India including power and internet connectivity, faculty and students may not have the requisite infrastructure to participate in online classrooms.

It may not be feasible for every HEI to conduct synchronous online classes.


PEDAGOGICAL RESTRICTIONS

A lot of the classroom teaching is dependent on various formats and pedagogies such as:

  • Laboratories for STEM courses
  • Legal clinics and field visits for Law subjects
  • Studio based work for Journalism, Arts, Architecture
  • Field visits for Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities
  • Workshops for Language Studies
  • Mathematical tools for quantitative subjects.

These may not be effectively implemented in online formats and will require innovation in teaching and learning methodologies, as well as investment in technology-based platforms.

STUDENT ENGAGEMENT

Not having students face-to-face within the confinement of a physical classroom may hinder the interaction between students and teachers. Even within the online format, students are usually required to keep the cameras off due to bandwidth constraints, making it challenging for the faculty to understand the receptiveness of students.

Also, in the absence of the peer-to-peer interactions that are common on physical campus, and lack of extracurricular activities, students will not have the required social and emotional development opportunities.

These are essential for developing students with well-rounded personalities, helping them build an effective social network, and supporting them in understanding the values of collaboration, team-work, diversity, practical implementation of skills learned, and interpersonal skills.

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATION OF INSTITUTION

The top 8 states with the highest number of colleges4 are Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.

Of these, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat are also among the states with most number of COVID-19 cases as on date5 of creation of this report. This implies that a large number of HEIs, by virtue of their geography, have high risk of exposure and therefore may not be able to reopen campuses even partially. Additionally, even in other locations, an HEI may be constrained by being in a high-risk zone or containment zone, or may enter that zone after reopening.

HIGH RISK EXPOSURE

Students/faculty/administrative staff coming from areas of high risk exposure, especially containment zones within or outside the city, may increase the risk of exposure for all other members of the HEI. Also, the high student population density of institutions, the need to be in close contact and the potential for large numbers of people to be exposed to infection on campuses, make the reopening of physical campuses extremely risky.

Non-Residential Campuses The risk of exposure will be very high given that all members including students will be traveling to-and-fro every day, often using public transport.

A large number of HEIs, by virtue of their geography, have high risk of exposure and therefore may not be able to reopen campuses even partially.

 

Residential and Semi-Residential campuses

In institutions with such campuses the risk of exposure will be very high since students will be coming from all parts of the country, via various modes of public transport including flights and trains where they are more vulnerable to catching the virus. Additionally, even when all students and faculty living on campus get screened thoroughly and only those confirmed Covid-19 negative are allowed on campus, there may be risk of contracting the disease due to a possible exposure of student/faculty to virus during their travel to the campus. In an ideal case scenario, while students would need to be quarantined off-campus for two weeks, and seek entry only based on a negative-test result, in reality, this is logistically not feasible.

Also, under unfortunate circumstances, residential campus students may come in contact with local support staff, local students and faculty members residing outside the institution and catch the virus. In such a scenario, they may not have access to their homes due to certain travel restrictions. Therefore, even with all health services available, this may result in added anxiety for students, faculty, staff, and their families.

HIGH RATE OF TRANSMISSION

Given the high concentration of students and faculty on campuses, the potential risk of spread of the virus is very high. In particular, there is increased potential for rapid spread of infection in HEIs with high student population density and poor ventilation systems. The additional risk associated with this is that faculty members are often in the higher age bracket and therefore highly vulnerable. Secondly, students/faculty who do not stay on campus could also expose their respective families (especially the vulnerable demographics) in the process of being on a campus and travelling to and from their homes.

ADDITIONAL INFRASTRUCTURE, COST, AND ADMINISTRATIVE OVERHEAD

Resuming physical operations will require additional setup, infrastructure and protocols for managing the norms of social distancing and sanitization. This would require additional classes to be conducted with lesser students, high-frequency sanitization of all areas, additional staff to manage housekeeping, implementation of hands-free infrastructure such as sanitizer machines etc. It will also need additional protocols to be followed, the monitoring of which may not be viable at all times. Therefore, at a time when the economy is highly strained, and students and HEIs may be under financial constraints imposed by the pandemic, this implementation could result in an undue cost overhead which may not be feasible to bear for HEIs.

Given the high concentration of students and faculty on campuses, the potential risk of spread of the virus is very high.