Of Assignments, Mental Health and Social Consciousness During A Pandemic

Abhishek Kabra

All work and no play make Jack a dull boy. Though Jack is a boy here, considering this as symbolic of any young kid, I shall not entitle it as a gender biased statement. But when we deeply analyse our kids, not taking anyone’s side, it somewhere feels they are born in a very wrong phase of time. Or I do not know if it is at a wrong part of the society built with norms of hierarchy or judgements coming up on bases that can never make any modern-day Jack anything except dull.

13th of March, IIT Delhi-( A very techno savvy place, that holds quite much a physical space but not a comfortable mental space for persons who want to admire every fall of a leaf)- The students in the campus shouted in joy as soon as their classes got suspended till 31st March, then.  They had to be meritorious of course, everyone says IIT, it is. The sounds of ‘Jai Corona’ that came out was actually not symbolic of a laughter to be shared over WhatsApp status as a meme material by learners of globalization across the institutes of excellence throughout the country, but had some real deep connotations followed by present context of time where most of the institutes have resorted to online modes to, I had to believe, resume the academic activity of the institute. The message that those slogans showed takes us to an assumption on the degree pressure an institute had to exert upon its students that they come out chanting such slogans out of relaxation even during a hilariously serious global pandemic effecting thousands of lives across the globe. It was not just IIT Delhi, but the scene of hundreds of institutes of the nation. Nobody wants to call themselves as socially unconcerned. With advent of many short-hard news apps, though verified or not, everyone is aware of the sufferings of the people and to add pain, are the miserable demise of medical staffs working relentlessly against COVID -19.

However, with Covid-19 being spread in India at an increasing rate and lockdown being enforced, everyone is aware of how hard the situation is. And in this context of time, many institutes are not even bothering about the mental health of the students, who are afraid whether or not they will be able to sustain this hard time, whether or not the bread of the family will be enough to feed the entire lock down, whether or not the poor households or even persons bereft of a house can sustain this pandemic and so on. The institutes have started filling them up with assignments and many even showed the fear of missing an attendance due to the non-submission. Yes, it is important to let not the academic flow be completely broken, but the rate of work that many technical and non-technical institutes are providing is beyond any mental health norm at a time when over 8,000 people of the country are Corona-positive.

Work from home differentiates with study from home. One may have an access to online digital books in home, but not having an access to a library providing important physical and mental space to a student, even cannot assure their 100% academic performance. And of course, the issues of accessibility are still a hindrance in the nation which declared itself as completely digital on April 28 to find over 18,452 unelectrified villages with lights of hope fading away in rule of despair, just after a month. We have always been famous in making announcements but we have never been famous in accepting the faults that arises with non-acceptance of realties, that exist. For, example just five days before the entire country was declared as open defecation free, a village named Shivpur of Maharashtra which had the ODF tag since 2018 itself, experienced two Dalit kids being killed after they were defecating in the open near non-Dalit houses and further investigation showed that there were no toilets in their home. Harsh, but true, our education system today expects us not to know these facts and be like the neo liberal term- apolitical.

If it is important to not let the academic flow be distracted, it is also important for a teacher to call their students time to time, like a friend, a philosopher and a guide asking how she or he is, rather than just coming with announcements of deadline making assumption that the students are idle and happy. Seriousness is not something which can be enforced, it needs to be felt and the institutes need to accept the fact that Covid-19 was an eye opener for them too, like it is for the world as a whole, in terms of countries giving emphasis to religion more than economy, statues more than health and deadlines more than the teacher-student professional intimacy.  A good teacher shall always take care that the students enjoy the festivities being at home, in unique ways or also that the students, whilst in home make fun with their parents watching movies, playing games or even sharing interesting incidents of their College/ University. The Government of India is seeking help from many youths, apart from medical background too, in fields like communication, volunteering and monitoring during the time of Covid-19 and for post pandemic days to collaboratively combat the damage. I hope that the students are promoted to be community leaders during this tough time.

Not every school can go for online learning. If the private international schools are doing so, the Government Middle schools in the country where the children of daily wage workers try to study, cannot resort for the same. The Government should check that this does not lead to widening of an already existing qualitative and quantitative educational disparity in the country.

Undoubtedly, the students are learning many life skills, but expecting them to be productive in institutional terms, is a very grave concern which needs to be replaced by processes where you not only take care of them by letting them be productive in their own terms. And the teachers can definitely help them in finding that out and making them responsible citizens of the country rather than a mere political illiterate, which the educational machinery is anyway producing; because in the words of Bertolt Brecht, “The worst illiterate is the political illiterate, he doesn’t hear, doesn’t speak, nor participates in the political events. He doesn’t know the cost of life, the price of the bean, of the fish, of the flour, of the rent, of the shoes and of the medicine, all depends on political decisions. The political illiterate is so stupid that he is proud and swells his chest saying that he hates politics. The imbecile doesn’t know that, from his political ignorance is born the prostitute, the abandoned child, and the worst thieves of all, the bad politician, corrupted and flunky of the national and multinational companies.”

Abhishek Kabra, Department Of Mass Communication And Journalism, Tezpur University, Assam

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Apr 19, 2020

Abhishek Kabra

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