Students of the National School of Drama (NSD) in Delhi are on a campaign against the institute’s online classes as it “compromises the value of education and widens the social and class divide within the students”.
The National School of Drama Students Union has launched a petition on change.org to raise their concerns “over the decision of the NSD to finish the remaining course online for the existing students including theory, practical inputs, sceneworks and play productions”.
The students claim the school does not listen to them at meetings and has withdrawn their scholarships to compel them to take online lessons. The petition is addressed to chairperson of NSD, Paresh Rawal.
NSD is one of India’s most important arts institutions from where students such as Om Puri, Anuradha Kapur, Naseerduddin Shah, Irrfan, Ashutosh Rana and Nawazuddin Siddiqui have graduated. Since March 2020, it has mostly been closed due to the pandemic and taken its syllabus online.
“When they started the online classes last year, it didn’t work. Students and faculties faced signal and network issues. Being at home in the lockdown, students found it difficult to attend online classes since theatre work is emotionally, mentally and physically demanding. Nonetheless, the school has started online classes again without addressing the problems that came up last year. This time the schedule is even worse because practical classes are also included,” says Abhishek Kaushal, a second-year student of acting.
Fifty-one of the 53 students of the first and second year are against the online classes being conducted by NSD. Suresh Sharma, director in-charge, NSD, says that online classes were necessitated as the pandemic made offline work impossible.
“We admit a lot of things cannot be done online, but the best way forward is to continue to teach what is possible over the internet. We have decided to keep 30 days aside per term for each student to finish the modules later that could not be completed online at present,” he adds.
Sharma says that the scholarship that each student receives at NSD is linked to their education and can be stopped if they do not turn up for classes.
“We feel that greater dialogue and discussion with the students is necessary to find a solution that serves the interests of both the students and the school, but we find that the institution, despite repeated requests from us, has closed off all options,” says the petition.
“Online cannot be the only solution. An arts institution like NSD, which has a small population of students and staff, can come up with a creative way to keep the academics rolling. Perhaps the institution can think about vaccinating all students, faculties, staff and their families, and then open the campus and let us inside, following strict SOPs, so that we can continue offline classes in school,” says Tamilarasi R, a second-year student.