A begin that wasn’t for school freshers

Renu Sud Sinha

Their dreams fuelled by Bollywood’s portrayal of campus life, almost all Class XII students were dreaming of living some of those moments. Wardrobes, laptops, things for hostel use had been planned and even bought. The long years of regimentation — of wearing boring school uniforms, classes, tuitions, living every moment under the watchful eyes of teachers or parents — all this was about to change soon.

Then came the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown. It didn’t just wipe away nearly a lakh of lives and the economy; it also took away the joy, hope and sparkle from young eyes as well as their dreams of initiation into adulthood, breathing in freedom on campus. All those plans of making friends (or girl friends), having all-night gossip sessions at hostel, freshers’ night — the tiny virus gobbled up everything.

Ludhiana-based Arushi Sood was all set to go to Singapore. The pandemic put paid to all her plans. She is now studying liberal arts at Ashoka University, Sonepat.

Chandigarh-based Arushi Chauhan had got admission in B.Tech at Thapar Institute of Engineering and Technology, Patiala. She was looking forward to the imagined charms of a hostel life.

Mumbai-based Saanjh Sengupta and Jamshedpur-based Priyanshi Bhardwaj were all set to join Chandigarh University at Gharuan, Mohali. Chandigarh-based Poorva Kahol had set her heart on going to DU. She had to join a local college though her eyes are still on the goal, as admission process in DU has started at last. The pandemic locked down their hopes, aspirations and lives inside the four walls of their rooms within the 20-inch screens of their laptops.

Bouncing back

However, the young are also resilient if not anything else. They adapted to the changed scenario pretty quickly. They gathered back the lost sparkle, turned it into a silver lining and promptly put it around the dark cloud called the lockdown.

Saanjh, who is pursuing B.Sc (Agriculture), was confused about her life goals. However, “the lockdown gave me the opportunity to explore various options and I could finally zero in on the career path I wanted to tread on,” she says.

Kudrat had been taking coaching for CLAT. As Class XII examinations were being postponed from one date to another, the pragmatic kid could see a similar fate for CLAT. She dropped the idea of taking the test, appeared for her L-SATs in July and joined OP Jindal Global University, Sonepat. This astuteness paid off, as her online classes were well into their fourth week when CLAT took place eventually.

Others too extended the shelf life of their long-envisioned dreams to whenever the colleges would reopen and got on to the business at hand — of attending online classes of whatever courses they were pursuing. And this generation, with technology wired in their DNA, had not much of a problem adjusting to the virtual classrooms — they lived in the virtual world anyway.

Zooming in on benefits

They were quick to figure out the pros of these classes. Zinia Chaturvedi, who is pursuing sociology honours in Sri Venkateswara College, Delhi, grins cheekily, “I can now sleep till 8.55 am, if my class starts at 9. Earlier, I had an hour’s commute to my college. I can also attend classes in my tees and shorts/pyjamas as most students only keep their mics on.”

Many others find the option of recorded lectures quite a boon. They can always refer back to these in case they miss out on some topic during the live class.

Even senior students find this option quite helpful. Karan, a third-year computer-sciences student with Chandigarh University, would like this to be a permanent feature when physical classes eventually start.

Counting the cons

However all of them sorely miss the offline classes and the campus life, the charm and process of making new friends. As Kudrat points out, quite wisely enough, that most systems were put in place for a reason and almost everyone agrees with this thought.

As most kids only keep the mic on, Priyanshi finds it disconcerting not to see her classmates. A national-level karate player, her competitive spirit finds online classes lacking the vigour of a face-to-face contact where you can judge competition.

Most also find long sedentary hours before the computers physically draining and mentally exhausting. Many complain of frequent headaches and eye problems.

Arushi Chauhan often finds her attention wandering during classes. All of them agree that it is easier to focus in a physical classroom with the teacher explaining things regularly. Many students, particularly literature and also interestingly from the engineering stream, find it tough to understand the lectures in the absence of facial expressions, whether frowns or encouraging smiles, or hand movements of professors.

Students living in remote or rural areas are facing connectivity issues. However, most educational institutes have factored in these issues and provided solutions. Students in such areas have the option of recorded lectures, attendance is less strict and they are being given extra time to submit assignments, shares Ritu Prajapati from Meghalaya, who is pursuing B.Tech at Chandigarh University.

In the initial months of lockdown, there was also the problem of non-availability of books in most remote areas. To overcome this, Panjab University provided PDFs of course books to its students, particularly those stuck in the interiors of Himachal Pradesh, says Dr Dilbagh Kahlon of the mathematics department, PU.

Making the best of it

Most colleges/universities and even the students are coming up with innovative ideas so that the freshers don’t miss out on the first-time charms. First-timers as well as seniors, who had experienced the maiden thrills of a college life and of course the college authorities, have tried to bring this excitement online. At Venkateswara, the sophomore batch organised a virtual freshers’ night as well as a farewell for the outgoing senior batch.

In most colleges across the country, various societies and cultural, drama clubs, etc. are conducting online contests and events for students to participate and hone other skills besides studying. As one of the students remarks sagaciously, “It is the ‘education’ outside the classroom that matters, sometimes more than whatever is taught inside.”

Forming virtual bonds

As most kids are finding it tough to connect with fellow students, many of them have come up with innovative ways to get to know each other. Delhi-based Mannat Singh is pursuing her PG course in social communications media at Sophia College, Mumbai. While her official online classes started on October 1, she has been attending ‘ice-breaker’ classes since September. She and almost 35 of her fellow classmates hang out virtually. They talk, debate, someone plays a guitar, another sings.

Arushi Sood says they have been having ‘floor parties’ at Ashoka University. All students, assigned particular floors in hostels, have been holding virtual pyjama parties or movie nights.

The Hackoverflow Technical Society of Chandigarh University has already conducted gaming nights as part of Genesis 2020. The students are also planning a virtual bonfire week soon.

Practically speaking

While classes for some practical courses like filmmaking or hotel management may have seemed impossible, our educators have not been deterred by the challenge. Amritsar-based Arsh Chopra joined B. Sc in culinary arts at Chitkara University, Chandigarh, during the lockdown. His classes have already started and professors/chefs conduct live cooking classes that students emulate in their own kitchen and post videos of their assignments. Other subjects of the hotel management course like learning how to make mocktails or cocktails, towel art, front office management — everything is being taught virtually through instructional videos.

Even a hands-on course like film-making is being taught online, of course with a little twist in the tale. Aaryan Baweja is pursuing BA in filmmaking from Whistling Woods International, Mumbai. His classes started in the first week of September. The institute decided to finish off with theory classes first and postponing the practical ones to the end of the semester, hoping to conduct these when the pandemic situation becomes better. However, the students are being given practical assignments/group projects so that they are at least familiar with the basics when they start offline classes eventually. As part of group assignments some are writing scripts, those who can are location hunting or shooting, yet others are editing, doing post-production work. In short, the show is going on.

When teachers become students

Born and brought up in a virtual world, most youngsters took to online classes like ducks to water, most teachers, particularly of a certain vintage, had some anxious moments in the initial months. However, most institutes conducted basic refresher courses for teachers to teach or familiarise them with basics of various software applications that were to be used for teaching online. Those working with private universities had it seemingly easier, as many of these universities had been offering online courses in the recent years and teachers there were a tad better prepared.

However for those teaching literature, online classes were a bit unnerving in the beginning. Debrati Sen, who teaches English literature at Venkateswara, had her share of anxious moment initially. She says literature is best taught and understood in an engaging atmosphere, with lively discussions and dramatic recitations, whether it is Shakespeare, Wordsworth or Elliot and a virtual platform is not the best option for this. However, as first-year classes are yet to start at DU, the teachers have cut their teeth on senior classes that have already started. Armed with various strategies and solutions such as advanced reading lists and links to various articles and other reading material, they are all set to make it an engaging experience for freshers.

In the end, whether it is teachers or students, they are all looking forward to starting of offline classes. All of them agree on one thing unanimously — they all miss the vibe of the campus and its synergy.

Funny side up

The definition and perception of fun is different across generations. While online classes have not found much appreciation among kids, nevertheless each one of them has created his/her comfort zone. Fresh out of school, a scolding in class is still a sore point. Chandigarh-based Poorva Kahol has found an innovative solution — simply press exit.

Priyanshi Bhardwaj from Jamshedpur finds it disconcerting not to see her classmates. A national-level karate player, her competitive spirit finds the online classes lacking the vigour of a face-to-face contact where you can judge competition

Ludhiana-based Aaryan Baweja is pursuing BA in filmmaking from Whistling Woods, Mumbai. Sitting in his hometown, he has been submitting projects on script writing, shooting, editing, etc.

Amritsar-based Arsh Chopra is doing B.Sc (culinary arts) at Chitkara University, Chandigarh. They emulate live cooking classes in their own kitchen and post videos of their assignments.

Ludhiana-based Arushi Sood was all set to go Singapore. The pandemic put paid to all her plans. She is now studying liberal arts at Ashoka University, Sonepat.

Mumbai-based Saanjh Sengupta, is pursuing B.Sc (Agri). She was confused about her goals. Lockdown gave her the time to explore options and she could decide on her career path.

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