Effects of Covid-19 on Universities: Aligarh Muslim University in Lockdown by Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi
by Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi
Had heard that every cloud has a silver lining! Aligarh Muslim University, and especially its Faculties of Arts and Social Sciences, had never been technologically savvy. Most of its Faculty, as well as its students, have always been very conservative and laid back not only in their approach to life but also at adapting to the ways of the modern world. We have always been quite proud of our “traditions” and simple ways. “Smart Classrooms” to us generally meant a room equipped with a projector placed on a table facing a screen. Even where a piece of full equipment with the entire gamut of paraphernalia has been installed, it is sheltered under lock and key and generally preserved for the future generations!
So when this particular academic year-long breaks occurred, first due to the anti-CAA agitations and then the outbreak of the worldwide pandemic due to Covid-19, there was much apprehension as to the future of the students. But the lead taken by AMU Faculty and Students has been beyond all expectations. Let me say that what would have been ordinary in some other world-class institutions, appeared innovative here.
Within a week of the lockdown being announced, some teachers were busy downloading the Zoom application and inviting their students to join in. Soon, by word of mouth, the message spread, and many Departments – English, Linguistics, History, Economics etc were on the Zoom interacting with their students. Some even graduated from teaching to moderating discussions and roping in “experts” from other institutions to guide the discussions. Some chose the open access forums instead of Zoom. They started live hour-long sessions on YouTube, received queries on WhatsApp or Messenger and answered following the lectures, thus making room for individual attention to student needs. Some started tailoring the themes of their lectures according to requests and feedback. I initiated a series of YouTube Live lectures on a contemporary theme: religion and the attitudes of the sovereigns of Medieval India that sparked interest at a time when all eyes fell on authority and pandemic responsibilities.
All these sessions were shared on various WhatsApp groups and in no time, history-related topics rapidly grew out of Facebook accounts that no longer fitted into the populist perspectives but experts faced up to the new social media’s The History Learner, contents of which generated a number of critical blogs. The teachers of each course formed their groups for giving out assignments and collection. AMU is currently on the verge of assessing students via digital platforms.
The pandemic lockdown has, therefore, accelerated the use of modern technology as a teaching and learning tool but without dedicated time to assess either the consequences or limits of applying technology on the ground. The assessment of student works is significantly compromised due to the dismal speed of the internet and its reach in the far-flung rural and mofussil areas where many students live and had to return. Perhaps their campus-based learning is further hindered by rising unemployment, confinement and/or parent’s inability to pay for education. Secondly, high-priced and fast-speed technology disempowers students from poor backgrounds. Lastly, there are particular familial conditions in institutions as Aligarh, where students are first or second generations into any formal education. They are not at par economically, educationally and intellectually to easily adapt to the technology-driven methods of learning that seem the new normality in educational institutions like DU or the IIT’s. AMU in lockdown is changing but is also an example of how an automatic switchover to technology as the solution to life in confinement might be far from reality due to inherent inequalities in social transformation.