Dr. Sunil Macwan, SJ, Assistant Professor - Department of English, St. Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad

Dr. Sunil Macwan is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at St. Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad. He has completed Master’s and PhD studies in English from Marquette University, USA, specializing in postcolonial English literature of South Asia. His other research interests include globalization, cultural studies, climate change, the 21st-century Indian novel, democracy and education, and task-based learning in English for Academic Purposes. He won an award for ‘excellence in academic writing’ at Marquette University, the USA, in 2018. He actively participates in environmental causes, and mentors the differently abled college students as a personal commitment.

 

Since March 16th this year, the college where I teach has gone completely quiet. The campus looks so lifeless nowadays. But what about the students who are so ruthlessly cut off from the campus? As a professor, left alone on an eerily quiet college campus these days, my thoughts suddenly turned to those hundreds of students who make the college come alive day after day with their tremendous energy and youthfulness. What are they going through? How are they coping with this unprecedented situation? What are their thoughts on the times ahead? I asked myself these questions and decided to connect with a few English Majors to get their reactions first-hand. The responses they sent via email gave me a deeper insight into their personal sensitivity as youngsters.

On Missing College Since Mid-March

Every one of them has missed the routine things of college life: classes, exams, presentations, discussions, classrooms, corridors, friends, classmates, teachers, canteen, and fun and games. But there are a few things they have missed the most. “I miss the trees and the greenery around the beautiful campus, especially the lawns on which I used to sit for hours every day,” confesses Vijay. “I miss the inner reading room of the library the most, but also the college as my Hogwarts, my home away from home,” says Preeti. Along the same line, Amaani says, “I miss a structure to my day that the college routine gives me. In the absence of it, I think a part of me has become dysfunctional.” Somewhat differently, Preet points out the spiritual loss from missing college-routine. “I miss visiting the prayer hall – something that had become an integral part of my life in college. In missing the things that fill up their routine day in the college, my students are no different from lacs of other college students across India who are frustrated by a sudden end of college life.

Preparing for the Final Exams During the Lockdown

Although preparing for the final exams should be their priority as final-year undergrads, the lockdown has somehow kept them away from the books. None of them, in fact, claims to have continued studying for exams. They planned a schedule, began studying on their own, but soon gave up because of all the ambiguity surrounding them in the lockdown and its aftershocks. Preeti acknowledges that instead of studying for exams, she has “been reading novels, comics, preparing for NET, and doing house chores.” For Amaani, it is the negativity arising out of the pandemic situation that turns her away from studies. “There is simply no motivation to prepare for the finals because of all that is going around me right now. All sorts of fake news, hate crimes, and the daily rumors about the cancellation of exams make it impossible to apply my mind to studies,” she accepts candidly. Angelika shares a similar story but with a twist. She says, “I have been studying very little because much of my time is spent helping mom in the house. So far, I have only studied for ‘The History of American Literature’ and ‘Literary Criticism’. The first because of its length and the second because of complexity!” Good for her. At least some fear of the tough topics has kept her in touch with the textbooks! However, not everyone has found it impossible to study. For example, someone like, Preet proudly says, “I have prepared a timetable for each subject, which helps me to devote a generous amount of time to studies every day. That said, the ambiguity about the remaining syllabi, resumption of classes, and exam schedule weigh heavily on me. Yet I am determined to prepare as well as I can, and give it my best shot whenever the finals are conducted.” Loads of Good luck on that!

The Impact of Distance Learning on University Education Post-Lockdown

The opinions are divided on this. Surprisingly, most of these students consider distance learning a passing phenomenon, one that will fizzle out soon. Only Vijay is quite clear about its usefulness. “Distance learning enhances the learner’s potential for listening and concentrating. Students are more motivated to study through online courses. Educational institutes will surely invest more resources in distance learning to reach out to students off-campus,” he claims. Preet, however, chooses to sit on the fence claiming, “I cannot comment on the future of distance learning since, except a few tests, no online teaching was offered to us by the department.” Among the dissenting voices, however, Amaani is most critical of distance education for its elitist affiliations. “Distance learning will increase the disparity among students in post-lockdown India. It tends to serve only those who have easy access to electronic gadgets and the internet. Unfortunately, millions of students in India cannot afford the means to receive distance education; especially the urban poor, the rural students, and the differently abled.” Angelika sounds quite categorical about the short-lived demand of DL. “I do not see distance learning having a lasting impact after the lockdown. It will fizzle out,” she states confidently. Whether DL might stay, time will tell. But it will definitely change our concept of teaching and learning in a big way post lockdown and college students will have to come to terms with it sooner than later.

Personal Thoughts on the Pandemic Crisis

Almost everyone feels negatively affected by the pandemic situation. However, everyone has also found creative ways of countering boredom and frustration with positive energy and constructive activities. For instance, Vijay says, “it has been challenging to get through this time as I am a restless person by nature. To stay positive, I cook twice a day, spend time praying, and feel glad to be with myself.” Preeti shares her formula of staying positive stating, “I consciously decided not to watch too much news to stay away from the anxiety and negativity of the lockdown. Instead, I rediscovered my passion for sketching and dancing. Besides, I help in the house chores, pray, watch movies, and prepare for NET exam.” Preet shares similar thoughts on the disastrous effects of the pandemic on her studies and future planning. She explains, “the pandemic has cost me a lot in terms of career and future planning. My plan of going to the UK for a Master’s is shattered because of the uncertainty regarding the final exams. I am also quite worried about the financial situation I will face in the post-pandemic, recession-hit world in the near future. Not surprisingly, Amaani connects her pain with those most affected by the current crisis. “I am deeply worried about the plight of the poor during the lockdown. It breaks my heart to see a lot of stranded migrant workers on the road. I am discovering creative ways of registering dissent but also struggling to deal with the guilt of being extremely unproductive these days.” As a literature scholar, Amaani’s empathetic concern for others reassures me of the importance of humanist education.

I am sure most other college students facing the lockdown in India these days have a similar experience of battling boredom and frustration on the one hand and keeping up hope and positivity on the other hand.

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