IIT-Bombay Scraps Regular Lectures for the Rest of 2020. Campus Life is Another Covid-19 Casualty

Coronavirus

IIT-Bombay Scraps Regular Lectures for the Rest of 2020. Campus Life is Another Covid-19 Casualty

Illustration: Arati Gujar

We have been told by epidemiologists, news anchors and WhatsApp forwards, the “new normal” is going to be different. We witnessed a glimpse of that new normal this week as the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT Bombay) became the first major institute to scrap all face-to-face lectures for the rest of the year and introduce online classes. The idea is “that there is no compromise on the safety and well-being of the students”.

“Given the current condition of the pandemic, how do we plan for the next semester for our students?” asked Professor Subhasis Chaudhuri in a Facebook post.

“Again, after a long deliberation in the Senate, we have decided today that the next semester will be run purely in the online mode so that there is no compromise on the safety and well-being of the students,”

Education has been one of the key areas severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic. At the beginning of the outbreak, students were happy that exams had been postponed. It meant more time to study.

But lockdowns kept on extending like deadlines on an office project. Soon, online classes were floated as a “temporary” solution as students tried to figure out new ways to cheat and teachers tried to figure out how the selfie camera works.

Of the many casualties the pandemic has inflicted upon society, the loss of campus life will hit closest to the bone. Everyone joining an online call and saying “Hi” is a big drop-off from giving hugs and high-fives every two minutes over wisecracks.

Sure, waking up ten minutes before a lecture is convenient but can it ever match the joy of heading to college and then bunking lectures to watch the latest SRK film? You can have ghar ka khana and rake up Instagram likes by making Dalgona coffee. But it pales in comparison to having the “canteen ka famous sandwich”, six pieces shared among four friends.

Even the online lectures take away all the fun of physically sitting in a classroom. Remember signing proxies for friends? How does one even bunk an online lecture and still get attendance? Or using a mobile phone sneakily below the bench? The thrill in using the phone was in the slight fear that one could get caught.

While education makes the mind rich, without campus life, it will be the heart that is poorer.

With no one to check on you, it’s not fun anymore. It is not even possible to play a prank in an online lecture, or chat with your mates about the previous night’s football game. Or keep peeking at your crush, hoping she notices you. A hundred people in a bustling class can never be replicated through a screen.

Remember the joy of group projects where no one in the group knew what the hell was going on? The fun was in being punished and embarrassed together. You could then go and beg the teacher to give you some grace marks, even shed some fake tears if that is what it took.

If things got too sour, you had to call parents to college and do jugaad and convince an elder brother or chacha to play “dad”. With no face-to-face interactions, it is these little moments of happiness, joy, sadness and grief, that we are set to lose.

Yes, the online lectures will impart educational knowledge. Students will learn new concepts, pass exams and be fit for a job. But campus life is a lot more than that – it is also about the emotional evolution of a student.

It is also about navigating through hostel life, making new friends. Falling in love, falling out of love. Tackling conflicts with people and forming bonds that will last a lifetime through all kinds of interactions.

While education makes the mind rich, without campus life, it will be the heart that is poorer. With first Harvard and now IIT-Bombay making the online plunge, it seems like we have socially distanced ourselves from good old campus life. At least for the near future. And that will be sorely missed.

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