“Life started with a race.”

Every person who has been a part of this ever-competitive world must have come across this phrase. Undeniably, every phase of our life was its victim and the education system hasn’t been immune to it either. To top it off, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic seems nothing less than an insult to this injury. Nationwide lockdown on educational institutions has made us question their future. 

With college being the life deciding years for the undergraduates, we wonder what is going to happen next? Is e-learning an option? What about the exams? How will placements look? What holds for the aspirants of further studies? And most importantly: education or job? Let’s find out!

The Global College Lockdown

“College is no longer the warm and fuzzy proposition it used to be”, notes mathematician and professor Cathy O’Neil. With 151 countrywide lockdowns on educational institutions, over a billion students have been affected, of which over 300 million students study in India alone. Out of these nearly 35 million being college students. The education system of all the countries has been put to test. 

Online Education: worth it?

The world has witnessed a global boom in online learning. Online assignments and tests are being submitted from the comfort of our homes. 

But how effective is this teaching? It came as a massive blow when The Research Institute of America found out that the retention rates from e-learning skyrocketed as high as 60%. This, against the minimum of only 8% retention in the case of traditional teaching technique. The present pandemic may have caused a not-so-smooth shift in the education system but it surely promises a new phase of education. 

The Digital Divide

However, the new technical wave has exposed the ever-prevalent digital divide. Despite 60% of the global population being online, as of 2017 only 35% of our country ‘uses the internet’. Precisely, all-inclusive education through e-learning as an alternative is too soon, too fast.

Exams and COVID

Exams are the next biggest test (no pun intended). It doesn’t come as a surprise to know that almost all exams have either been postponed or cancelled. While a few colleges like JNTU-Hyderabad have scheduled 4-2 examinations from 20th June, NIT Trichy has already commenced online examinations. On the other hand, IIT Bombay and Kanpur have scrapped the examinations for this semester. The state of Maharashtra also has decided to promote all their students based on their previous performance. 

Recently, our HRD Minister Shri Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank has confirmed examinations for final semester students. Furthermore, exams can be conducted for the other years if the University zones have been marked safe. The UGC has issued guidelines for either conducting the exams or promoting the students using a unique grading system, details of which can be found here. For all we know, August is when we step foot in our college. 

Placements and COVID

The placements have their fair share of doubt. Three major scenarios arise: the companies will honour their offer, delay their offer, or withdraw their offer for all those who have been placed. The dip in the job opportunities and avalanching economy crisis can be held the culprits. It becomes even more evident as 6 IIT students and counting have had their offers revoked. 

Forbes India covered scenarios where students either had their offers revoked or were asked to start working from home. The tech-savvy world has witnessed the recruitment drives also being conducted online. But the batch of 2021 might face more difficulties than that of 2020. The many ‘changes’ and the cancelling of overseas projects is the reason, agrees Assago Shrinivas Joshi, manager placements at Agnel Institute of Technology and Design, Delhi. 

However, instead of worrying about the placements, the preparation for them is a key take away from Panjab University’s webinar. “Nothing can hamper the spirit of learning”, quotes PU’s vice-chancellor Raj Kumar.  

Study Abroad and COVID

A turmoil of plans for study-abroad aspirants is observed. Problems such as no-face-to-face exams, restrictions on immigration, stringent eligibility criteria, and delayed admission deadlines are bound to arise

Luckily many schools, like the University of Cambridge, have started developing contingency plans i.e. their courses can be taken online until it is safe to attend them in-person. As for the study-abroad exams like GRE and GMAT, an at-home test-taking option is made available. A few English proficiency tests like IELTS have also launched online tests to aid the students. The scenario of further studies within the country is no different.

However, Alliance Manchester Business School’s head of recruitment Chris Healy suggests reconsidering an MBA in 2020. He believes an MBA to be experimental. Networking, Collaboration, and Collegiality are essential in an MBA, something which is difficult to achieve behind computer screens. He believes that researching is the best option to find schools with “viable contingencies post lockdown”. You can find the effect of COVID-19 on various B-School applications here.

Despite all of this, 91% of Indian students still wish to go ahead with their study abroad plans. Possibly international aids like relaxations on H1-B visa holders by the US or an unavoidable dip in job opportunities is making students opt this route. Whatever may be the case, COVID-19 will make colleges prove their worth, notes Cathy O’ Neil

Be it placement or education, experts have suggested that skill development through mini-courses is the only key to survival.

What now?

Classes, exams, placements, and further studies are just the tip of the stress ice-berg for college students. But what is expected of the youth is the struggle to live and not survive. The competition is not between two students, but between your past and you.

The fire in every individual today is burning brighter than ever. There is an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and an insatiable hunger for achievement. But, it is necessary to stop, to stand and breathe. It is necessary to remind ourselves that this too shall pass. The competition will continue to exist. The question is, will you? 

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