Life at the University campus post- lockdown

K. S. Charak,
Pankaj K. Srivastava

Emergence of COVID-19 has brought a drastic change of order in the society forcing to redefine the system governing our ways and means of life to ensure safety and security of the mankind. The lockdown has a very positive effect and has stopped spread of the virus to a large extent and at the same time given enough time to get the government ready for the worst. This situation can’t be indefinite and the efforts are now on to get people back to work and out of isolation. But if we return to work in same manner as we did before the pandemic, it is certain that there shall be a second wave of the virus. The chance of getting rid from this pandemic in near future is very less and, therefore, we will have to learn to live with it by changing some of our habit.
The Universities have taken some proactive measures, on the instructions of MHRD to address various issues concerning higher education and to keep the students, teachers and other staff safe during the lockdown. Now after more than two months of lockdown, the Higher education institutions (HEIs), like other sectors, have also started resuming some of the administrative works with limited number of the staff. In any case, all the universities must consider all their activities individually and phased them back in place carefully, depending on the risk they pose to the spread of the virus. The core to all activities is the idea of ensuring physical distancing and also maintaining personal cleaning and hygiene. A detailed set of guidelines is required to be issued before the university opens for all the stakeholders. As our focus is the University Campus after lockdown in Indian scenario, we divide the university working broadly into five major components as Administration, Examination, Teaching and Learning, Research and Students Support for the present discussion.
All the universities must shift to paperless administrations as papers are required to travel through different sections, tables and persons and hence may act as the virus carriers. Technology, digitalization and Electronic File Management System are the buzz words for improving the safe work culture in the university administration. The lockdown period must have been used by the administration to do the regular sanitization of all the buildings, including hostels, procurement of necessary thermal scanners, sanitizers, masks etc for making a regulated and safe entry of the employees.
Teaching and learning was the main area supposed to be badly affected during lockdown due to pandemic. The “teachers”, being a most responsible class and being a part of decision making organs of the University, have decided to shift to online mode of education delivery mechanism, living aside the initial fear of poor quality of online education. However, the quality of internet, affordability of high-speed connectivity and electronic gadgets, security of e-portals remained an impediment in the learning process and has emerged as major issues for the immediate attention of the policy makers. Non availability of 4G service in the Jammu and Kashmir UT was the major issue during the online classes. Further the students of most of the universities are from various sections of the society (i.e Urban/ Rural, Affluent/Deprived etc) and hence possession of the electronic gadgets required for the online education is also a problem for a sizable class of students. In view of the above facts, the University should now try to integrate the online methods with the traditional teaching and learning process in the post lockdown era. The required infrastructure, IT platforms and suitable academic environment for such scenario should be the priority of the universities in the future.
After the opening of the campuses for the students, some classes have to be conducted by the teachers for those students who could not attend the online classes for the reasons mentioned above and also for the doubt clearing of other students. These classes along with the practical classes need to be conducted in groups and shifts for 15-20 days after the opening of the campuses.
The lockdown started from 24th March 2020, larger part of the syllabai of UG courses is perhaps covered. The UGC recommendations, with multiple options, regarding examinations, though advisory in nature, should be acceptable for all the universities. The most viable option seems to be the terminal examination for the final semester for UG and PG be conducted in shifts using multiple sets of question papers. The evaluation be done in time bound manner as these students will have to take admissions in higher classes in different HEIs. UGC has even suggested reducing the timing of examinations from three hours to two hours in order to accommodate multiple shifts and to maintain the social distancing protocol. For the intermediate semesters (i.e. Semester II/IV) in place of final examinations they should be promoted to next semester by giving 50% weightage to internal evaluation and rest 50% weightage for the marks obtained in previous semester whereas the project work/field work/dissertation etc should be suitably replaced by some other written assignments/viva-voce.
The Ph.D./M.Phil. Dissertations already submitted by the students must immediately be processed by the staff working in the Examination wing and viva-voce examinations be done on Skype or using some other technology.
The experiments and laboratories remained completely out of reach during the lockdown period. Most of the laboratories require daily maintenance and hence the universities must initiate maintenance work of these equipments and laboratory by allowing a minimum nummber of techanical staff and research scholars on rotation basis, without violating the norms of ‘social distancing’. Similarly, the Principal Investigators of the time bound projects should also be allowed to attend the labs of their concerned departments to maintain labs and start research work with strict compliance of the guidelines/directives issued by the appropriate authorities/ Governments from time to time. The roaster for research scholars should be prepared so that only one-third of the scholars are present in the department/laboratory on a day and others work from home. Field visits need to be carried out very carefully with all precautions in place. Research seminars/discussions may be done online via available portals/apps or physical mode by maintaining social distancing norms. Research scholars as well as teachers must make the maximum use of e-resources for their research.
New norms for the hostels (including mess) be prepared to maintain social distancing. The new academic session will begin from September 2020 (as per UGC calendar) and hence the universities have some breathing time. The present hostel inmates, however, have to be back in phased manner after the lockdown. The wardens are required to be vigilant to ensure the strict implementation of advisories/guidelines issued by the University. The cafeterias/eating points in the campus should be opened in a phased manner with the conditions to follow the social distancing norms and online payment mode. The sports and cultural activities in the campus should remain suspended. For the Library, different set of norms are now needed for the issuing counters and the reading rooms. If required, these areas be revamped to maintain the social distancing norms. E-resources should be made available to all the students. Entry of the outsiders (any one not a student/teacher) should not be allowed till the situation improves.
Universities must learn a lesson from the Covid-19 era and strengthen their infrastructure particularly in IT sector and to make some radical changes in rules and regulations to integrate the traditional teaching and examination with online mode. The university website shall be required to be designed in such a manner that individual teacher has his/her own link to upload the his lecture/study material. This will also help to convert the traditional teaching and learning methods to fit an online and self study education. In case some universities try the online examination mode, the integrity of the examination and assessment must be ensured.
Overall, the new seating matrix, teaching and research in multiple shifts, staggered laboratory timings, technology driven seminars and viva-voce examination, revamped hostels and canteen, different mess and library rules, do’s and dont’s in washrooms and prominent places, regular disinfection, thermal scanning at entry points and social distancing shall be the new order of life at the campus post lockdown period. A new dress code of essential mask on the face and sanitizer in pocket are going to be part of our daily life during and post lockdown period for our own safety. May the situation improves soon.
(The authors teach at Department of Mathematics, and Department of Geology, University of Jammu, Jammu.)