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Calcutta: College in-person classes not now

'Gatherings on campuses might lead to students, teachers and others contracting Covid-19'
The decision was taken at a virtual meeting on Sunday between education minister Partha Chatterjee and the vice-chancellors of state-aided universities.

Subhankar Chowdhury   |   Calcutta   |   Published 30.11.20, 01:24 AM

In-person classes at colleges and universities will not resume for now as the Covid pandemic is still raging, an official in the higher education department said.

Classes will continue to be held on digital platforms, the official said.

The decision was taken at a virtual meeting on Sunday between education minister Partha Chatterjee and the vice-chancellors of state-aided universities.

The official said they feared that gatherings on campuses might lead to students, teachers and others contracting Covid-19.

On-campus classes have been suspended since the third week of March, when the nation-wide lockdown was imposed to try and slow down the spread of the disease.

At an earlier interaction with the VCs in late September, Chatterjee had not said anything about when in-person classes would resume, but asked the institutions to start sanitising their campuses.

“Back then we were exploring the option of reopening campuses and so asked the institutions to start the sanitisation drive. But as the conditions are still far from normal, the reopening has been put on hold,” an official said.  

At Sunday’s meeting, a VC said, Chatterjee pointed out how states facing a surge in Covid cases had to revoke their decision on reopening the institutions. The minister did not name the states.

The Karnataka government had on Monday decided against reopening schools and colleges in December because of the still raging pandemic. The Tamil Nadu government had revoked its order of reopening schools from November 16 for Classes IX to XII.

“The condition is not conducive to physical reopening of colleges and universities now,” a source quoted the minister as saying at the meeting.

Bengal’s Covid mortality rate is 1.74 per cent, compared with the national average of 1.45.

A VC expressed the fear that it would be difficult to monitor whether the students are maintaining physical distancing if on-campus classes resumed.

“Physical reopening of institutions will entail reopening of hostels as well. It will be equally difficult to monitor whether safety protocols are being adhered to at the hostels. All these could worsen the Covid situation. So we decided against physical reopening,” said another official of the higher education department.

“They (VCs) are not keen on opening the hostels now. They have sought time to start in-person classes. I will apprise chief minister Mamata Banerjee about the development,” minister Chatterjee said at a programme in Behala.

It was also decided at the meeting that the first-year undergraduate and postgraduate classes at state-aided colleges and universities would start on digital platforms without further delay. So far only the classes of those who are in the intermediate semesters were being held on digital platforms.

To avoid any gatherings on campuses, it was decided that examinations of the students in the intermediate semesters will be held on online platforms. “As of now, it seems holding exams online is the only option,” the minister said.

Several VCs asked during the meeting whether the students could be tested on truncated syllabuses, given that all chapters have not been covered in the absence of on-campus classes.

“It has been left to the universities to take a call on whether they want to reduce the load of the syllabus or not,” said an official of the department.

The state government has pruned the syllabuses for the students of Classes X and XII who will write their board exams next year as on-campus classes could not be held because of the pandemic.

Holding classes on digital platforms is not emerging as a successful model for want of access to devices or connectivity among a section of students.

After minister Chatterjee had advised in September that classes be held on digital platforms for now, Raiganj University in North Dinajpur had sought Rs 57.05 lakh from the state education department to create e-resources and buy smartphones for students who can’t afford them so they could attend online classes and access study materials digitally.

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