Its High Time You Stop Selling Students The Lie Of Online Education
The inherent inequality of online semester has been repeated quite a few times. We all know it sucks, it is exhausting, we all know it is worse for those living margins.
It’s comforting to see the anecdotes of the online semester being documented, its many fails giving us a chance at finding humor in our collective misery. It’s all fun and games, for the documentation is fleeting, the misadventures either too far from home or a one off failure we shall laugh at in many years to come. Today, though, I don’t have it in me to romanticize it, to make something memorable out of what is in its entirety a horribly isolating experience.
While we do witness great show of empathy, understanding and leniency, it’s fleeting. The expectation being, this too shall pass, for it’s an ephemeral anomaly. I’d like to think so too, that my narrative is in my control. I don’t panic when the WIFI won’t connect a day before my 10% in-class assignment, or the fact that I haven’t had a laptop to type/open slides since the start of semester. Because of course there is back up, two in my case, we are after all entering professional life in a year, these are but minor inconveniences. I reach out as I am told repeatedly. I look beyond the usual ways to find a way out. For a while, it works.
More than anything the university has been kind (in a very textbook definition sense of the word, measured) enough to send in a 4G device, the instructor kinder to accept an almost illegible 1% handwritten assignment, two days prior. But the thing about kindness is, when asked for too much too often, it starts to feel like exploitation, a manipulation of facts, a cunning scheme.
Catering to inconveniences is no more convenient. So, when I email professors for the first time, saying my laptop has malfunctioned, for a quiz, an assignment and the daily readings, the word “for now” is silent. My laptop has malfunctioned, “for now”, the internet disconnected, “for now”. I can’t find a quite room, “for now”. The assumption being these problems are fixable, a solution floating somewhere out there and I will find the solution. The system has to go on, so it keeps giving away free solutions. Whatever “system” means. Quite naturally, no one is to be blamed, for this is how the system is designed, to find solution to any and all obstacles which threaten its continuity.So, I no more count the number of time my precious 4G disconnected; I am always holding it, refreshing every 5 minutes to make sure the connection lasts. For my assignment, I began typing on my tiny phone for I have used the handwritten wild card on 1% assignment but my hands won’t settle, the mobile keeps slipping away. Maybe it’s the coffee, or the weight of assignment, or maybe the fact that someone just laughed during the breakout session at the clinking of china plates, whirring of roadside trucks, Amma chiming on phone echoing in my background.
So, I hurriedly start scribbling on paper instead, without informing the instructor. Surely they will understand, and they do indeed. This time though, with some hesitance, an extra question, a subtle insistence that typed answers are preferred. You don’t hold it against them. The online education is hard on all of us and there is only so much so one can do to make it easier, right?In our class, we keep reading about contextual solutions to problems, for a monolith answer does more harm than good. The assumption here is, a solution is there, finding it an every present possibility. Well, I am not so sure. How do you find a solution within a system to an aberration outside the system? How do you continue to function within a system that was clearly constructed without consideration of a pandemic in sight? I am not sure, what’s the alternate. All I know is, some of us will always be more disadvantaged, breaking our backs trying to fit in, sending our lengthy apology emails of needing an alternate yet again, surviving another day hiding behind our “for now”.
This is an individual account, my friends, colleagues, people on internet; everyone has at least one story to tell. So, pardon me, if I am cynical about the heartfelt attempts at making this transition a comfortable experience. The whole idea being sold to us based on the lie that our circumstances are explainable; a grievance can be communicated and finally addressed. As our social media feed says, human beings are complex. Underprivileged, marginalized are words too simplistic, too altruistic, efforts to uplift the ones on periphery ignorant and tone deaf.
I wish it were true, I wish that each of us accommodating the other would help us get through the pandemic. It doesn’t, not in slightest. Not when we are still relying on same metrics to measure performance, not if our main concern is ensuring the academic calendar goes through minimum changes, and definitely not when we fail to embrace discontinuity.