Will ruin quality, exclude the poor: Teachers on UGC’s blended learning move

UGC Blended Learning: Teacher, student groups say it will further exclude marginalised students from colleges, universities, ruin quality for all.

UGC proposes a blended mode of learning in which 40% of the teaching in a course will be onlineUGC proposes a blended mode of learning in which 40% of the teaching in a course will be online

Abhay Anand | May 27, 2021 | 01:35 PM IST

NEW DELHI: The University Grants Commission’s draft regulation on blended mode of learning in the universities has already got a thumbs-down from large sections of the academic and student communities. A “blended mode” of teaching employs both online and offline methods and teachers and students believe that course content going online will prove exclusionary and detrimental to students on the “wrong side of the digital divide”.

Plus, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic forcing universities to teach online, many institutions now have first-hand experience of how difficult this system will prove for many students. Even elite public institutions such as the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT), including IIT Delhi, IIT Kanpur, IIT Kharagpur and IIT Bombay, had to resort to fundraising from alumni and non-profits for laptops and broadband connections for students. Rajib Ray, president of Delhi University Teachers’ Association, said that online teaching during COVID-19 has shown that it is “highly highly unequal and inadequate”.

Following the release of the draft guidelines, several student and teachers’ associations across the country have urged the UGC to withdraw it and focus instead on improving digital and other infrastructure in educational institutions across India. The UGC is a main conduit for public funds for central institutions as well as many programmes and research centres in state ones.

UGC: Blended learning guidelines

The UGC’s draft note, released to the public for comment on May 20, proposes a blended mode of learning in which 40% of the teaching in a course will be online. The draft is in line with the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 which opens up university teaching to many modes of learning, including face-to-face, online and distance mode.

As per the draft, higher education institutions should be allowed to teach 40% of the syllabus of each course through online mode and the remaining 60% in offline mode. This is in addition to fully online courses that universities are allowed to offer via the education ministry’s e-learning platform, Study Webs of Active–Learning for Young Aspiring Minds, or SWAYAM.

Digital divide and online learning

Academics for Action and Development (AAD), an association of college and university teachers, described the draft as making way for a “blended mode of implementing privatisation and contractualisation as envisaged in the NEP”.

According to AAD, replacing on-campus teaching with online classes is simply not feasible. “Three-fourths of students come from SC, ST, OBC, EWS, PWD and remote areas like the northeast and Jammu and Kashmir, who are mostly on the wrong side of the digital divide. Owning a smartphone does not mean having access to the digital medium. This will ruin the quality of teaching as well as the workload of teachers,” it said in a statement. The Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes and persons with disabilities are all historically marginalized communities.

‘Dismantling public education’

Some teachers have also alleged that UGC is trying to dismantle classroom teaching and practical training for students by promoting blended mode.

The Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA) has termed the blended mode as an ‘unacademic’ and ‘ill-timed’ recommendation which according to them will erode the autonomy of educational institutions and teachers further.

DUTA has alleged that this move will ensure that a large number of students from underprivileged families or rural areas with limited internet access and computer devices will be denied access to quality education.

“The concept note turns students into customers and uses fancy clauses like "pick teachers and timings", "frame your courses", "design your degree", "student-centric" and so on and so forth. Such dubious and meaningless clauses mask the ulterior reality of the move towards dismantling public education in the country,” said DUTA.

Rajib Ray, DUTA president, said: “Our experience of online teaching for over a year tells us that it is highly unequal and inadequate. Classrooms cannot be replaced. Online teaching-learning reduces human interactions and truncates learning.”

‘Will not be easy’

While they won’t say it on record, even university administrators have grave misgivings about the policy.

“If implemented, this will be upon the universities and its statutory bodies to move courses online and ensure that every student has equal access to the online classes,” said the Vice-Chancellor of a newly-established central university asking not to be named. “It will not be easy for universities and colleges located in remote or rural areas to move 40% of courses online. It will be equally difficult for public universities and its affiliated colleges located in metros to move courses online.”

Students Federation of India (SFI) has also opposed UGC’s suggestions and has said that the question of exclusion and digital divide in the country “greatly outweighs” the advantages of blended learning for students.

The students’ association’s statement says: “As far as the material conditions in the country, equitability in access to digital resources and internet are concerned...the decision will exclude students from marginalized communities from getting higher education.”

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