“I am a student of CLC. I should know what keeps happening here in class? Can’t you speak a word in English?” charged a young man who just showed up. He had joined about a month late for the online classes but he was entitled to know the goings-on. Actually, from his assertion, we also came to know that our college has a reputation and speaking in English is the guarantee of good academics.
“What is your full name?” asked my baffled lady teacher of Family Law. She’s a ‘Hindi Medium’ type but very sincere. Her classes start on time. As her efforts to explain topics are only repetitions from the book, students prefer that she dictate notes from it. She obliges because the one comprehensive book that she uses is out of print and no one else has a copy of it in the whole world.
The young man has made an online identity and it is “Romeo”. The teacher knew this was a nick name. So, she wanted to know her student better by knowing his real name. The young man answered the teacher’s question by running away. Bloop, he left the meeting and went off screen…
This experience firmed my resolve to go for online classes daily and anticipate some fun. I’m a student of a private college of a “B” grade (read mediocre) university in Uttar Pradesh. In keeping with the times my college also decided to dispense online education. The assumption is that time is precious and even the ongoing pandemic must not be allowed to steal it. The fact is that only 10% of the students show up in the online classes.
So, how do we explain this failure to attract 90% students for online classes? The college management probably doesn’t care who is absent and why. To build its reputation, it probably says, “A determined minority is enough to change the world”. Our college is that minority and the students attending online classes here are the hope. The enthusiasm of our students coming for online education compensates for the indifference of the lazy multitude.
The teachers I suppose have to come and take online classes because they have been ordered by the management. The principal decides their deployment and the liberty of teachers to refuse online classes is constricted by their need for a salary.
The students turn up for online classes for their own reasons. With the lockdown outside, how else will they kill time? Only a small minority of students come for online classes, anyway. So, who are these lucky ones? In addition to having the resources to pay the fees of the private college, this minority also has smart phones with steady internet connections and is tech savvy.
What’s going on here?
The world over, online classes are no compensation for teaching. They are not even a half-way house as the illustration above by an anonymous artist shows.
So, what’s going on here asked our young man with whom this story began. The first class in my college starts with the ‘Hindi Medium’ type madam already described above. She’s sincere but has limitations. Her communication skills are poor and her domain knowledge is limited to what’s written in the pages of her favourite book.
Our second class gets us to see the opposite of the previous teacher. We call him Mr. Shirker. His ego is gloriously puffed up by his overconfidence. In the opening class he only spoke of himself and I thought he’s the subject of the course. He announced, “Only three or four people in this big state can teach this subject. I’m their leader. It’s unfortunate that this semester will be online. You would have had the experience of your lifetime if we had met in the classroom.”
Now, this tribute to himself makes him a showoff, not a shirker. But the problem is that in a month, he hasn’t taken more than three classes. The interval between them is so large that he starts from the beginning and nobody cares. A smart chap, my teacher sends a link for joining his class on the college WhatsApp group, clicks the picture of attendance within minutes and closes the class with some excuse or another. “My wife is a teacher who was forced to do election duty for panchayats. She’s been ill since” he told us one day. “My father is down with multiple illnesses and may need hospitalization. My younger brother is a doctor and will take care of this. But I am too disturbed,” he said on another day.
Sometimes this teacher uses swear words and is abusive to the government of the day. He thinks we OBCs have voted it to power and will continue doing so because we are brainless. I haven’t told him yet but plan to bring to his attention two facts. First, that the moment he starts abusing, the few women classmates who join online, just start leaving. He’s fond of some of them but even they quit. Second, that there’s got to be a difference in smart pedagogy and vile propaganda; that abusing the government may not be the best way of opposing it.
Then, comes our lady professor of Constitution. It’s a vast subject and some of its parts are fairly intricate. This professor knows the domain and her communication skills supplement her knowledge well.
She and Mr. Shirker are polar opposites. She encourages the students to ask questions. She has promised to collect them and dedicate a class or two to the questions put by students to her. On the other hand, Mr. Shirker has promised to give us a list of 10 questions and assured us that we will find them in the annual exam. As you would expect in a world where ends matter more than the means, the students are more beholden to the guide-book approach of the Shirker than to the hardworking lady professor.
It’s not that the lady professor doesn’t tell us some extra-curricular gossip. To her we owe the gender discrimination among the faculty. This semester, out of my five teachers, three are women. Unable to ventilate her grievances elsewhere, the lady professor complained to us, “My specialization is something else but the Constitution has been assigned to me. Actually, our male colleagues pick their favourite courses and then, the leftovers are distributed amongst the women teachers.”
My experience with male teachers this semester is uniformly bad. If this is how they teach the subjects of their choice, imagine what will they do when teaching random courses. We know the Shirker already. Now, let me introduce you to the ‘Dodger’. This male teacher is so caught up in other things that he has no time for attending to his duty. He is supposed to be the coordinator of our batch and this means he’s close to the management.
But Dodger is clueless as to what is our schedule, who’s teaching us what and when. Sometimes, on a holiday, he would send us a link asking students to join his class. Most often his classes also end within minutes of starting. For some days he said that his mobile phone was not in order. “Why don’t you buy a better one, sir?” asked a student politely. “Well, you are twenty present today. Why don’t you make a collection and gift me a good mobile,” came the retort.
This Dodger teacher calls himself a resident of another town and complains that mobile connectivity in his area is poor. So, sometimes our class ends with he screaming ‘hello’ and some of us saying “We can’t hear you.” So, the farce ends much to the satisfaction of all.
The writer prefers to be known by his pseudonym Ravi Rao.