Life on a pause: Ananya S Guha

Heading towards A New World

ANANYA S GUHA

We are now told that Covid 19 will drastically change our lives. What this could be will be interesting to discover. Life will not be the same again. The reason for this is the virulent nature of the disease and also because the cure will not be ready at least before a year’s time. Lock down is only containment and a contingency measure. Real life will be replaced by the virtual they say. Already, people are having virtual gatherings and literary meets. It is as if we are trying to surrender to the virus with a certain degree of fatalism. Perhaps this has never happened before in our lives. Classrooms too have become virtual and students are now taught online. Yet technology in education and harnessing it especially in Distance Education is not something. But if we have to wear masks and gloves all our lives, there will be encumbrances in our lifestyle.

Everything, from commerce to relationships are being encouraged online. The fact is that we are happily auguring a technology circumventing world. Is that possible? Won’t we continue to meet people and interact with them for the next year and a half or so? Technology seems to be a grand remedy for everything. We fall back upon it as a panacea to our problems. That is where we make the mistake. We err on the side of caution. I call it a ‘ mistake’ because the human touch or humanism cannot or rather should not be replaced or substituted with technology. Technology is not an end in itself. It cannot be. Yet we are happily talking of replicating the real world with the virtual, in relationship, in social interaction and in education. When open universities using distance education method started functioning in the country and in fact world over, no one took them seriously. Even now they are considered second rate. It is an irony now that exactly such distance education methods are being used now for teaching and learning. 

Then there is the phenomenon of artificial intelligence. We are even talking of robotic intelligence replacing human intelligence. The man and machine debate is no debate. Man is machine and the machine man. It is indeed ironic that Covid 19 has brought into sharp focus the penetration of technology in the man societal relationship. Since the lockdown there have been literary meets, book launches and even parties on the internet. The concept of friends and friends waving to each other in social networking sites have existed for quite some time now. Technology has been slowly taking over our lives without us being aware of it. The concept of citizen journalism became popular. News circulated in social networking sites were believed to be factually correct but soon we discovered the alarming rise of fake news.

Are we now heading towards a ‘fake world’? The point that I am trying to make is that we are losing hold and control over the fine excess of the human touch. And we don’t seem to mind it. Technology is a panacea for ills. So instead of trying to work out the solution medically for the corona virus, we are talking glibly about the ‘new normal’. How will it be both new and normal? The newness has to be defined in terms of causal relations among human beings world over.

The Covid 19 has left a trail of death and disaster all over the world and it has redefined international relations in two senses: one is that nations are helping each other and secondly, some aspersions have been cast on China. So, we have put the yardstick of one and a half years before a vaccine is developed. The assumption is and again somewhat glibly that there might be intermittent lockdowns and so we have to rework our schedules and relations: in short, our destinies. So, technology is the answer to this forbidding truth staring at us. It seems very simple or simplistic to say that students will be taught online in schools. What about the rural urban divide and the disruption of technology in remote rural areas.

The Deputy Chief Minister of Meghalaya has already made this point and has strongly suggested that other means have to be worked out in terms of relaxing the lock down or whatever, or after it. But what if it continues? Online teaching is not an easy task. Apart from technical failures such as power supply which can disrupt the teaching or, poor connectivity the physical non-presence of students in a conventional setting makes one feel that she/ he is talking to the walls. In the conventional classroom the presence of students is a stimulus to the teacher.

What I am saying is that we are today simulating everyday experience from social gatherings, to launches of a book or magazine to education. But what is noticeable is that education or online teaching and learning has been radicalised due to closure of schools, colleges and universities. E learning has become the order of the day in times of Covid 19. WhatsApp, Facebook, Google plus and Zoom are being used by teachers and institutions to exacerbate teaching learning processes. The lecture in a classroom is substituted by lectures on google and zoom. Strictly speaking this is not e learning which actually is more complex requiring multi-tasking devices such as the noodle, but something is better than nothing. The author is using zoom and WhatsApp to interact with students in a central university. The students are located in different parts of the country and not all are able to attend because of various reasons. But it is a beginning in e-learning which is ideally suited for distance education learners. But now, because of the pandemic students are at home and off campus. So, learning has become distance education and off campus. Recorded lectures are also being used.

My experience of such teaching is that it is a novel experience though as mentioned above the naturalness of a classroom is missing. But at least lectures can be delivered and discussion points can be raised among groups. This may become the new normal. In fact, when traditional classes resume, teachers can complement conventional teaching with internet learning use the tele method and the mobile or the computer to augment the teaching learning process. Of course, as stated earlier this will be dependent on connectivity, power situation, wi-fi access and bandwidth. The real again tautologically speaking will be virtual. But it does open exciting possibilities in pedagogy. We are heading towards a simulated world where the four walls of a classroom are extended into multiple classrooms. A pandemic is enforcing us to the challenges of  a new world and the marvels of technology here is the compelling instance. The debate between the real and the virtual will be ongoing.

Ananya S Guha

Ananya S Guha

Ananya S Guha works in the Indira Gandhi National Open University, Shillong (Meghalaya) as an Academic Administrator. He has over 30 years of teaching and administrative experience. He has six collections of poetry and his forms have been published world wide. Some of his poems are due to appear soon in an Anthology of Indian Poetry in English to be published by Harper Collins.