Days after the Karnataka government decided to resume offline classes at undergraduate and postgraduate colleges across the state on November 17, several stakeholders including student organisations expressed reservations over the decision.
Dismissing Deputy Chief Minister Ashwathnarayan CN’s claim that all stakeholders were consulted, the All India Democratic Students’ Organisation (AIDSO) alleged that the government was bowing to pressure from privately-run institutions in the state.
“The government has not consulted the opinions of educationists, teaching community, parent and student bodies before announcing their decision. Though the daily cases are slowly decreasing, several experts are of the opinion that till the festive season ends, we cannot determine whether the pandemic has reached its peak and the curve has flattened,” Ashwini K S, State President of the organisation said.
Ajay Kamath, AIDSO state secretary, said, “After seeing a sudden spike in cases, the Karnataka government had suspended the ‘Vidyagama’ programme (where teachers visit students near their homes) indefinitely.”
He urged the state government to take a decision based on the welfare of students, teachers and parents, and “not succumb to the pressure of private managements.”
At the same time, lecturers say uncertainty remains even after the government announcement. “Right from marking attendance to ensuring completion of the syllabus looks very uncertain at the moment. Even though the Covid-19 guidelines in place helps us resolve most health and well-being related issues, other ancillary issues are yet to be addressed. At present, we have been communicated only about making preparations for students at the hostels,” a lecturer at Ramaiah Institute Of Technology in Bengaluru said.
The Engineering Colleges Faculties Association (ECFA) issued a statement seeking clarification from the government on who would be held responsible if lecturers and students get infected in big numbers once offline classes resume. “It was shocking that the state government did not own up the responsibility of those who got infected and succumbed to Covid-19 infection while being part of the ‘Vidyagama’ scheme. The government then was not even ready to review its ill-thought-out programme,” ECFA President Rajashekhar V N alleged.
Further, the ECFA appealed to the government to take action against managements that slashed salaries of teachers and lecturers since April. “Like other teaching community, most of the engineering colleges faculties are being summarily removed from their jobs while those who are working are given only 30 to 40 per cent of their salary. The state government should use the law at its command to take action against the erring managements,” a statement read.
“The state government which did not bother to take any measure to safeguard the interests of suffering teaching faculties, is eager to start colleges raises several questions,” the Association added.
At the same time, students are also wary of staying in hostels, with a few informing them that the mess would be closed. “I have decided to attend offline classes and travel back to Mysuru as attending online classes is a challenge here because of weak signal strength. With the hostel not functioning, outstation students like me are forced to either order food online — which is more expensive, or go out to nearby hotels to eat — which is risky because of Covid-19 spread now. We are helpless to make an informed decision now,” a B.Com student from Jharkhand said.
However, Deputy CM Ashwathnarayan had said on Friday that the government will issue clear guidelines and standard operating procedures (SOP) to conduct offline classes, depending on the response from the students and other stakeholders.
Meanwhile, a senior official of the Higher Education Department official said, “While task forces will be constituted at each college, Deputy Commissioners will head district-level task forces to ensure smooth functioning of classes.”
Reacting to the concerns raised by students and lecturers, the official said, “We have made it mandatory for those attending offline classes to get a consent letter from the parents. While offline classes will function only on a voluntary basis to begin, college managements will get comprehensive guidelines soon on how to ensure safety to all stakeholders, similar to those in place for SSLC, PUC and entrance examinations that were successfully conducted here in the past few months when the Covid-19 caseload was much higher.”
Karnataka conducted 1,12,545 tests today out of which 90,564 (80.5%) are RT-PCR tests. Number of recoveries have outnumbered number of new cases for the 10th consecutive day. 15 districts reported zero deaths and 2 districts reported more than 5 deaths.@CMofKarnataka @DHFWKA
— Dr Sudhakar K (@mla_sudhakar) October 24, 2020
According to data from the Department of Health and Family Welfare Services, over 7 lakh people recovered from Covid-19 since March and there are 86,479 active cases as of October 24. “Number of recoveries have outnumbered number of new cases for the 10th consecutive day. 15 districts reported zero deaths and 2 districts reported more than 5 deaths,” Health and Medical Education Minister K Sudhakar tweeted on Saturday.
At least 10,873 people have succumbed to the infection so far, while over 34 per cent of them have been reported from capital city Bengaluru alone.
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