Education World | 30 Eduleaders weathering covid tsunami: Abhishek Gupta
Abhishek Gupta is pro-chancellor of the privately-promoted Jagran Lakecity University, Bhopal (JLU, estb. 2013), which has 2,432 students and 230 faculty on it muster rolls and member, board of management of four DPS schools (Bhopal, Indore, Kolar Road, Rau) in Madhya Pradesh.
All education institutions have been shuttered for the past 16 months to check the spread of the pandemic and learning has moved online. To what extent have you succeeded in switching JLU to online teaching-learning?
As soon as all education institutions were ordered to be shut down in mid-March, 2020, we took decisive action. We integrated GoogleMeet into our LMS (learning management system). Thanks to our robust technology partner, all our classes went online within seven days. Simultaneously, we also integrated proctored examinations into our LMS. By responding quickly and decisively to the pandemic challenge, we were able to complete the 2020-21 academic syllabus, conduct our exams online and declare results on schedule. Indeed, we were the first university in Madhya Pradesh to conduct and complete examinations in June. We also collaborated with Microsoft (India) to take all our labs virtual to ensure that practicals were not hampered for students.
Online learning can never replace in-person learning. What are the downsides of online education? What is the percentage of learning loss?
Inevitably, there is loss in terms of development of interpersonal skills and ability to understand emotions. Teaching online is a different art and if faculty teach using offline pedagogies, then surely there will be big learning loss.
Are you ready for in-person classes at JLU? What safety precautions have you instituted?
Yes. JLU is completely ready for in-person classes. All our faculty and staff are vaccinated and also 65 percent of our students. Apart from that, all Covid protocols relating to sanitisation of premises, distancing, masking etc have been drawn up in detail and we are prepared for the worst situation. We are aware that every public health pandemic has a four-five year cycle and we need to be vigilant and devise safety protocols accordingly.
The JLU Group also runs several DPS schools in MP. How well have they been able to manage the pandemic mandated closure of K-12 schools?
To the same extent as JLU. In our schools as well, we have invested heavily in digital infrastructure and technology and teacher training, to ensure learning continuity as also to provide counselling services to students and parents thus ensuring that the latter supplement classroom with home learning.
Once on-campus classes begin, what are your remedial education plans?
We are all awaiting reopening of our campuses. First, students will need to get back into the habit of sitting long hours in classrooms. Therefore, classroom learning will be made more interesting than before and children will need counselling. Moreover, focus on redeveloping soft skills and practical lab work will be important priorities.
What is your advice to the government to make up for academically lost ground in the pandemic era?
Universities should be allowed to reopen because students in this category are above 18 years and eligible for vaccination. Moreover, government should mandate that only vaccinated students will be allowed on college and university campuses. Government agencies — UGC, AICTE, MCI — should devise special training programmes for faculty and teachers to enable them to switch to digital education, and also stretch academic semesters to make up for lost learning.
Any other comment?
The Central and state governments should stop prescribing common norms for public and private universities. They have totally different administrative systems, processes and procedures.