Pranav Sharma and Lakshya Sharma, both first-year students at Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law in Punjab, India, discuss the crisis in education and the educational movement at the National Institute of Fashion and Technology...
“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” – Andy McIntyre
The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented global crisis in various sectors throughout the world. Education, in particular, is affected in some ways. The education which was previously received in the classrooms has now totally gone digital. This enabled the platform of distance learning while keeping the phase of education persistent through digital media. However, the education which is now flourishing is not enjoyed by everyone in the same way.
In India, education is a right under Article 21A. Article 21A simply states that India will: “provide free and compulsory education of all children in the age group of six to fourteen years as a Fundamental Right in such a manner as the State may, by law, determine.” India enjoys a diversity of students coming from different family backgrounds and regions. Students come and join different educational institutes to receive the best education. While at the education center, all students have equal access to education, but it is not so in the contemporary COVID-19 situation. Education is being propagated through digital mediums, but the real problem is at the receiving end. Numerous institutions are trying their best to maintain the same decorum of the education which was received earlier, but it somehow lacks proper implementation due to many factors.
According to a report by UNESCO, more than 320 million students across India are affected by this unprecedented crisis. The only medium through which education can now be imparted to these students is through digital platforms. This appears to be an efficient solution, but a number of problems arise as its implementation is analyzed. According to the 75th report of the National Sample Survey Organisation, only about 23.8% of Indian households have access to proper internet. The number decreases to 14.9% when only rural households are taken into account. This creates a digital divide across India, because of which a major part of students cannot avail themselves of access to proper education. The lack of internet is a major halt in imparting education through digital mediums. This has to be acknowledged as soon as possible, or the technical problems will only increase with time.
Another major problem that arises is the curriculum implemented in educational institutions. The present curriculum is structured to facilitate classroom teaching through resources that mostly consist of books. The digital medium is not apt to impart education according to this curriculum. The students who were supposed to take their final term and entrance exams are most affected by this crisis because there has been no clear notification or instructions provided by the institutions. Notifications and instructions that are provided are full of ambiguity. This has created a major impediment, as the students are unable to pursue their further ambitions until they pass their end-term examinations.
The National Institute of Fashion and Technology (NIFT) is one of the most well-reputed government-funded fashion institutes in India. NIFT shares a tremendous reputation among aspiring students who want to pursue the field of fashion. When it comes to academic examinations, the procedure is quite practical in approach. Aspiring students have to present their fashion submissions in front of a board of judges called “the jury.” The jury examination involves a herculean effort put by the students. They tend to invest a great amount of time and input a plethora of tasks. This could include stitching a fashion peace, embellishing it, making it presentable, and more to create a submission before a jury. On behalf of the individual’s submission, the jury awards points for their graduation from the current year.
Amidst the pandemic, even a normal online examination is not possible at every place. People are diversified and come from some places where internet connectivity is not available. Holding such an examination online would be a more arduous task. Seeing the present problem at hand, the student body of NIFT, along with the students, launched an online petition against the “Jury-Examinations.” The petition was circulated online and received an unexpectedly higher response.
The petition was a consolidated form consisting of various contentions given by the student regarding the cancellation of the final examination. These included the contentions that:
- Not every student of NIFT has a similar means of resources like internet connectivity, laptops, and other graphical mediums, which ultimately leads to some students being unfairly boycotted due to the unavailability of such resources.
- The alarming notification of the lockdown led students to leave for their homes in a hurry. In the chaos, many students forgot their resources and stationery at their respective hostels. Also, such resources are not easily available everywhere and the lockdown thwarted the ability to procure them.
- Some practical examinations were totally related to specific practical lab classes that were not held online. Even if they were held, they need a practical execution that was not possible while sitting back at home.
- Due to the necessary steps that were taken by the government regarding quarantine, travel bans, and temporary suspension of public transportation, some of the students were not to get back to their homes and are simply living alone at their hostels.
- The final contention of the body was regarding the mental health of the students that were being overlooked by the administration. They further added the fact that the news of jury examination elevated the prolonged mental stress and anxiety that has been in the minds of students and their respective families.
By giving examples of other private and public universities regarding cancellation of the examination, the student body of NIFT demanded justice on the impugned matter from the Ministry of Textiles of the Government of India. The student body’s struggle had a positive outcome for the students, as the administration decided to cancel the jury examination for the intermediate students. The administration instead introduced simple assignments in its place.
Another factor that has to be analyzed is that this is the first instance when such a crisis is being faced by universities and institutions in India. There was no proper way of dealing with this problem beforehand, and the institutions had to take action on short notice. NIFT, being a premier national institute, has to take measures to secure placements for its students. This cannot be done without evaluating students through examinations and assessments, so cancellation is not feasible. Even if the assessment is canceled, then the students who are prepared will be at a disadvantage. The mode of assessment has to be decided by consensus between the students and the authorities. Proper discussions and deliberations are to be done by the student representatives and the NIFT authorities. The students should be evaluated, but parity has to be ensured first. Certain measures should be introduced to support students who are at a disadvantage. Neither the students nor the authorities are at fault in this case. This is a difficult time that has to be faced through cooperation and consensus.
Along with NIFT, most of the national institutes are facing this difficulty, including the national universities. This unprecedented crisis caused due to COVID-19 could not have been predicted. Therefore, no well-deliberated plans of actions and solutions are available. These types of challenges are to be faced through important breakthroughs. These can only be devised by collective decision-making, aided by deliberations among the people affected. All the problems of everyone involved have to be taken into consideration while formulating the strategies. No one is at fault, yet all are facing the disastrous consequences of this pandemic.
The pandemic may have created a great problem in the education field, but solutions can be reached. It is time to think with a broader perspective. A delay in education is more acceptable than a hiatus in one. The government should formulate such policies that will not deprive students of their respective education fields, as it is a fundamental right of every student of the country. NIFT has set a quintessential example for the country, as it focuses on how students, well aware of their rights, are being educated, challenged, and thwarted. The growing consciousness in the students’ minds has given a positive example to many students to be aware of how important education is.
Pranav Sharma and Lakshya Sharma are both first-year students at Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab.
Suggested citation: Pranav Sharma and Lakshya Sharma, Education Amidst Pandemic: The Movement at NIFT, JURIST – Student Commentary, July 6, 2020, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/07/sharma-education-nift-movement/.
This article was prepared for publication by Cassandra Maas, a JURIST Staff Editor. Please direct any questions or comments to her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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