Students of Mizoram University’s constituent and affiliated colleges with the help of community leaders are scripting one of the most amazing and inspiring stories in the education sector despite poor Internet connectivity and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Stories of their resilience and enterprise first hit the headlines early this month when photographs of students writing their online undergraduate exams under a makeshift tent built on a hilltop in Siaha district was shared widely on social media.
The students had to trek around 3km uphill to write their exams for lack of Internet connectivity in their villages since colleges are closed due to the Covid-induced lockdown.
Now pictures of students attending online classes by the roadside in a locality in Serchhip district has started doing the rounds. Most of them used or shared their parents’ mobile phones, since all of them could not afford individual gadgets, a university official said.
Vice-chancellor Prof. K.R.S. Sambasiva Rao told The Telegraph that students from remote rural areas are moving towards places having Internet connectivity. At these places, local NGOs and village councils are “helping” them with computer, Internet connectivity, printing and scanning facility to write their examinations.
Students write their online examination with NGO volunteers at hand to help with logistics Picture courtesy: Mizoram University
“We are perhaps the only university or one of the very few varsities to have completed our courses and exams online last year. We will be doing the same this year too. Our students, teachers, staff, community leaders, NGOs and the state administration have all contributed to this success instead of complaining about Covid and connectivity issues. Ours is indeed a Covid ‘positive’ story,” Rao said.
There are one constituent and 29 affiliated colleges under Mizoram University with around 25,000 students.
Functional since 2001, the central university started holding online exams for undergraduates from June 1 and will be holding postgraduate exams for around 3,000 students from July 1. All examinations for the colleges are conducted by the university.
According to Rao, Covid has been a “great” teacher, bringing to the fore “our” resilience and innovative nature.
The pandemic had an adverse impact on our overall existence but it has also thrown up new avenues in the education sector — learning many technological interventions such as digital teaching and infrastructure, online programmes and skill development courses to students, the vice-chancellor said.
“Though students are missing classroom teaching, they also got an opportunity to learn from various other sources. We are now conducting online classes, online exams, getting foreign experts from Oxford, Cambridge and Stanford, among others, to take classes. We held nearly 400 seminars, webinars and conferences and tied up with a technology partner for seamless delivery of online services. Covid has been a great teacher,” Rao said.
A computer and printer provided by an NGO for uploading answer scripts. Picture courtesy: Mizoram University
A telecom sector official told this newspaper that barring Assam, connectivity is poor in the other six states of the Northeast, especially in the rural areas, attributing it to the hilly terrain, law and order issues, sparse population, electricity, land and compensation issues.
Mizoram has 100 per cent teledensity in both urban and rural areas — 13.8 lakh mobile connections against a population of over 11 lakh.
“This is one indicator of a not-so-good network, forcing people to take multiple connections in order to remain connected,” the official said, making a strong pitch for improving connectivity as it will not only help the education sector but also boost commerce.
Mizoram information and communication technology minister Robert Romawia Royte admitted to the state facing connectivity problems but said things have improved in the past three years with the MNF-led government taking several steps in association with the service providers and the central government to resolve the issue.
“The state government has a very limited role because the telecom sector is under the Centre. We are facilitating setting up of mobile towers by lifting the NOC (no-objection certificate) clause in urban areas, directing the power department to ensure supply to the service providers and exempting telecom personnel or transportation of telecom materials from the Covid SOP (standard operating procedures),” he told this newspaper.
Royte, however, praised Mizoram University’s performance in these trying times.
“We appreciate their will power, innovative approach and their commitment towards their students by regularly holding online classes and exams. Credit to the entire team led by vice-chancellor Rao. MU is not only the pride of Mizoram, born out of the 1986 Mizo Peace Accord, but also of the entire Northeast. MU is, in fact, one of the positive and inspiring stories to come out of the state during the Covid pandemic,” the minister said.