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IIT Bombay’s decision to move online: Road ahead

27 June, 2020

In the wake of Covid-19 pandemic, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay becomes the first one to go completely online for one whole semester. Subhasis Chaudhuri, the director of IIT Bombay announced it through his official Facebook page on Wednesday midnight. “After a long deliberation in the Senate, we have decided today that the next semester will be run purely in the online mode so that there is no compromise on the safety and well being of the students,” he wrote. “To ensure that our students begin the academic year without further delay, we are planning on extensive online classes, details of which will be informed to all students in due course of time,” his post reads.

There is also a buzz that IIT Delhi may soon follow Bombay and hold the next semester online till December before welcoming students back to the campus, although there has been no official decision as yet. This might be the best deal for any institutes as of now, as the country has seen a spike of corona cases in recent days despite three months of lockdown. In fact, the two IITs in two most affected cities of India, Delhi and Bombay, are forced to take the decision; on Wednesday Delhi overtook Bombay with 70,390 total numbers of cases.

Therefore, the premiere institutes of India are deliberating their best possible ways to deal with the situation whereby it can carry on with their academic works online. According to a report of The Print, IIT Delhi director, V. Ramagopal Rao told, “There is all likelihood that we will run our next semester completely online. All the theory parts of the courses will be taught online and the practical will be completed once the students are back on campus. Looking at the alarming number of cases in Delhi, it won’t be possible to call students back to campus for a long time,” he added. However, he also added that PhD students will come to the campus whenever they need the laboratories for their research works and the IIT will only welcome the freshers in December, hinting a postponing of the new academic year. The final call will be taken only after the IIT council meeting, scheduled this week, along with other IITs.

This is also an international departure of the Indian institutes, as many universities in UK and USA have decided on shifting online for a semester or for one year. For example, the University of Cambridge has decided that there will be no classroom lectures held till summer of 2021, making it the first university to go online for one whole year. According to its official statement, lectures will be available to students online and "it may be possible to host smaller teaching groups in person" if they meet social distancing requirements, the university said. In a similar move, the University of Manchester too has moved online for a semester. Similarly many universities in the USA, from California to Michigan State, have decided to hold online lectures to fight the pandemic.

However, there is flip side to the story also. While Cambridge and other top universities of the world can experience a smooth flow of online lectures, Indian universities have much to think upon before they come up with a solution. In fact, what is peculiar is that the director of IIT Bombay in his statement appealed for public funds to help the students of economically weaker sections. “However, a large section of our students come from economically less privileged families and would require a helping hand to equip them with the IT hardware to take these online classes. We look forward to your overwhelming support to help these bright young minds to continue their learning without any further hindrances or delays.” 

If that is the case with IITs, where it looks forward to crowd-funding, rather seeking governmental help, we can understand what the colleges and universities in the remote part might have to face in case they too are forced to shift online. A meticulous study done by QS-I GAUGE, where it interviewed 7200 students across the length and breadth of India (except Andaman Nicobar Island) it was found that, “in order to use the Internet at home,

72.60% of the respondents used a mobile hotspot (i.e. connecting a Wi-Fi enabled electronic device to the phone’s Internet where the phone’s data is used as a wireless Internet service), 15.87% used home, 9.68% used WiFi dongle (a pocket-size device that connects to your smart phone, tablet or laptop and allows you to access the Internet) and 1.85% had poor to no Internet connectivity.”  The report further adds that, “With respect to respondents who experienced scarce access to Internet connectivity and used no one particular source, 53.49% faced poor connectivity, and 46.51% faced signal issues. Amongst the ones who used WiFi dongle, 43.30% faced poor connectivity, 9.23% faced power issues and 47.47% faced signal issues. From this data, it is clearly seen that majority of the connectivity issues take place in the form of either poor connectivity or signal issues. This brings our focus in examining the performance of service providers individually.”


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