Delhi University (DU) is a revered dream for many – as is evident with its soaring cut-offs, placement promises (mostly for commerce-based courses), and affordable fee structure which allow undergraduate students to get a degree for as low as Rs 50,000 for the three years. Owing to the hullabaloo and cry over privatisation, one cannot say whether the last factor will sustain, but for now it is safe to estimate that this university is not home to only privileged youngsters.
In unprecedented times like these with the COVID-19 pandemic, DU issued a press release on March 12 insisting upon maintaining the “continuity of the online teaching-learning process”. In my opinion, it is premised upon a sweeping generalisation that all students belong to the same social, economic and political strata. With over 75 colleges, having a total strength of nearly 1.5 lakh regular students; physical access to resources (library, notes, internet, classes) and infrastructure are integral to the teaching-learning process for many students.
However, the national lockdown has confined them all, and many outstation students have had to return to their respective homes.
At this point, the administration’s belief that it is possible for everyone to continue education is flawed. For instance, Kashmiri students face a lot of difficulty downloading byte-sized PDFs due to restricted internet access, but one would think that video lectures on Zoom and Google Hangouts, and free access to JSTOR are synonymous with some utopian style of teaching.
On the condition of anonymity, a third-year student at Miranda House currently living in a family of six in a small district of Rajasthan, said, “Mere ghar mein WhatsApp messages aane jaane mein hii itna time lagta hai… Jaldi jaldi mein copy kitaabein bhi Dilli mein reh gayi. Ab kaise bhejun assignments jab internet, kitaabein, readings, kuchh bhi nahi hai dhang se? (It takes a lot of time to send and receive even WhatsApp messages at my place… In a hurry, I left my notes and books in Delhi. How do I mail assignments, when I don’t have a steady Internet connection, course-books, and readings here?)”
This is not to say that professors and peers in colleges are entirely ignorant to the aforementioned limitations, but there is a significant pressure on students to nonetheless go about internal assessments and coursework, as if it is an extended vacation.
Some professors do check up on students who may not have access to the resources, but that isn’t the case in many colleges.
Besides, the students who live in abusive and patriarchal households don’t have the privilege to fret over grades and submission deadlines; especially women who chose DU over others because of its affordable residential facilities that arguably aren’t as conservative and controlling as their families. For them, the lockdown can be a severe trigger for anxiety and, in some cases, even trauma.
Plus, both urban and rural households expect the women of the house to do the daily chores like cooking, cleaning, laundry and so on. This is not only troubling in terms of its sexist and patriarchal strain, but also because it practically limits how much time women can devote to education.
In times like these when Instagram influencers and many others are selling the ideals of ‘productivity, evolution of self, finding yourself’ among other things; it is important for the teachers and administrators of an educational institution like DU to understand the exploitative nature of an underdeveloped, inaccessible system of ‘online teaching-learning’.
At at time when the world is engulfed in a dystopian spirit and a fear of death has taken the front-seat, is it right to penalise students for not finishing a certain reading or mailing an assignment on time? Do all students have the economic privilege to buy the readings online (not all materials are available for free), or the socio-political privilege of living in a region with a good internet connectivity? Do they have the mental bandwidth to write a 3,000-word essay on feminism when (and if) they are staying with abusive parents?
These are some questions the administration and professors at DU need to consider before sermonising students to regularly study, finish their coursework, and work hard from the comfort of their homes.
To be grading privilege, and penalising the lack of it, is not the kind of collective stance the youth needs to endure in these uncertain, unprecedented times.
Anushree Joshi is an over-thinker who studies English literature at Lady Shri Ram College who has strong opinions on why your #IAmHumanistNotFeminist attitude is a problem and why Manto should be taught in schools and colleges across the country. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Featured image credit: Rishab Agarwal/Unsplash