By NSHM | Aug 17, 2021

Ghar, chawal aur Oxygen ki kahani by Dr. Suparna Dhar

Ghar, chawal aur Oxygen ki kahani
The pandemic has shaken up education and learning. It struck when no one was quite prepared. At
the School of Computing and Analytics at NSHM Knowledge Campus Kolkata, we moved to online
classes from the 3
rd week of March 2020, even before the lockdown was declared. The students and
the teachers were techno-savvy, so the operational shift from offline to online was smooth. Yet,
education and learning in the pandemic was a challenge. Or was it?
Story 1: It was the 3
rd week of March, 2020. I started the machine learning class at 11 am sharp. In
the first 15 minutes only one student joined. I decided to start the class. I checked my connection,
“Can you hear me?” Rinki unmuted and said “Yes ma’am”. I was surprised by the thousand other
voices that came from behind her. “Rinki, where are you?”, I asked. “Ma’am, I am at the Howrah
station, boarding a train…”. Oh my God!
Story 2: A couple of months late, in the 2
nd week of May, 2020, I was teaching digital marketing.
Suddenly, a woman’s voice drifted in, “beta, chawal chaddha diya hai kya?” Ram replied, “Ha(n) ma”.
I muted Ram quickly. The session was being recorded!
Story 3: Another year passed. It was the 2
nd week of May 2021. I was teaching machine learning to
the new batch. I was worried by reports of students’ inattentiveness in class coming from all around.
From time to time, I called out students to check. When I called out Raja, I heard blaring noise of
traffic in the background. Raja was on the road going somewhere!
These are my real experiences during the pandemic (the student names are fictitious). None of these
students were insincere in their studies. Rinki was travelling to her hometown. The students were
asked to vacate the hostel. Like the millions of migrant workers, they were struggling to get back
home. Rinki was lucky to get a train ticket. She joined the class from wherever she was. Her
classmates were still struggling to get a ticket. Ram was helping his mother out with some household
work, balancing it with his classes. Afterall, the maids were locked down and parents had to juggle all
household chores with work. Raja was out to procure oxygen for an ailing person. These students
were heroes.
Life is a great teacher. In the pandemic, life taught us to be compassionate, grit to cope with
adversities, and survive. A lot of discussion on education and learning during the pandemic revolves
around online vs offline, and Zoom vs Teams. To me the real issue is learning to survive vs learning
the lessons. If we fast forward 50 years, offline classes may be a distant history. The students of the
future are likely to attend virtual classes with the environment of a class brought into the drawing
room, aided by technology. The online vs offline, and platform debate too will become history.
Machine learning and digital marketing are likely to evolve beyond recognition. But the compassion,
grit, learning to cope, and survive will stay with the students forever.