Lockdown Amid COVID-19: Opportunities For Students

“Online initiatives are an excellent opportunity for students to keep up with their course curriculum, enhance their professional skills and explore their creative side during this COVID-19 triggered lockdown period.”

With more than 19,91,560 cases and 1,30,880 deaths across 213 countries, SARS-CoV-2 is adversely affecting the lives of people worldwide. In order to combat the current pandemic, Governments of different nations are implementing strict precautionary measures. One such step taken by the Government of India is the nationwide lockdown. Earlier, it was imposed for 21 days by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, but given the current situation, it has now been extended till 3rd May 2020. The aim is to flatten the curve and hence, limit the spread of this viral illness.

This effort to ensure social (physical) distancing through self-isolation has led to a drastic and sudden change in the lifestyles of people around the world. The students are not untouched by it. In such a scenario, online learning provides an excellent platform for them to learn and grow. Like many other educational institutions across the globe, IIT Gandhinagar has also introduced various online courses and project ISAAC* to combat the boredom and other negative psychological effects in its students associated with COVID-19. The online courses are focused on honing a student’s professional skills. The objective is to not let this lockdown period be the cause of a time lag in their studies and keep them up to date with the academic activities. Similarly, project ISAAC is a set of exciting contests and challenges, aimed to positively engage students amid a serious crisis. Its activities are designed in a way to unleash an individual’s creativity, and in the process, enhance their critical skills – a necessity for professional as well as personal success.

“During this lockdown, the Institute is offering several Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) on various online platforms (like NPTEL, Coursera and EdX). A certain number of credits towards our graduation requirements can be completed through this type of learning. After the extension of the lockdown period, we are also being offered some courses for the summer term, which will be taught by the IITGN faculty free of cost. On the one hand, these initiatives are helping us with our studies from the comfort of our homes, while on the other, participating and devoting sometime regularly on such platforms is taking our mind off this panicky and depressive global situation,” said Shivanshu Sharma, a 2nd-year B.Tech student in Electrical Engineering.

MOOCs make the college and university courses accessible to many students and learners worldwide. They are technology-driven learning platforms that have made a positive impact on education and are evolving its course for the better. Encouraging students to learn via these platforms opens up the opportunity for them to gain knowledge and develop their skills and, in the process, liberalizes their education. These are a great way to ensure that they don’t miss out on their studies amid the COVID-19 crisis.

“This nationwide lockdown is an effective effort by the Government of India to reduce the scale and scope of contagious SARS-CoV-2, which has made our country one of the effective fighters of this disease. Everyone has been greatly affected by this crisis and its precautionary measures. As a student, I am not able to attend my classes. Internships and projects have been canceled. In short, life, as we know it, has come to a standstill. Moreover, we cannot meet our friends and peers, for the sake of our and their safety. Another point is the harmful effects of information overdose and fake news associated with this pandemic. Amid all these issues, the online courses and project ISAAC offered by IIT Gandhinagar are some awesome and positive ways for students to unleash their creativity and develop their skills,” expressed Palak Purohit, another 2nd-year student pursuing B.Tech in Electrical Engineering from IITGN.

Based on inspiration from Sir Isaac Newton – the discoverer of some great laws and theories during his lockdown period in the year 1665 (London’s Great Plague) – Project ISAAC, with its numerous fun activities, encourages students to dream ambitiously and do wondrous things. Focused on making constructive use of their time at home, it is a means for them to pursue their hobbies and passions. Both Shivanshu and Palak are participants and winners of several contests of this initiative.

“Our families are at home. We are not going out. We are virtually connected with our near and dear ones through various social media platforms. This lockdown is to ensure our own safety against COVID-19 but this situation is also leading to some adverse psychological effects. In these times of distress, we are trying to stay positive and learn new things, and these online efforts by our Institute are greatly helping us to achieve that. Under project ISAAC, we participated in contests like Quarantine Reviews, 12 Days of Code, A Video A Day, Chess Tournament and Surgiranshu-Sanskrit Subhashita and won quite a few of them. The best part is that winners get prizes in different categories viz., the regular (daily) ones, lucky draws, and grand awards. Other than enhancing our knowledge and skills, it instills motivation, brings out our productive side and keeps our minds busy,” explained B.Tech 2nd year students Tanmay Sharma (Chemical Engineering) and Shril Modi (Electrical Engineering).

“Earlier, I was not much into coding. Project ISAAC made me realize that I am a decent coder. Now, I wait for new coding problems every day under the 12 Days of Code challenge. So, participating in this program has led me to explore the things which I am good at,” Shril continued further.

Nearly 60% of the IITGN student population has registered and participated in the quizzes launched under this project. Several new challenges have been added, which will praise and celebrate the most creative efforts undertaken by students during this forced confinement when they return to campus after the lockdown is over.

In the words of Bhavya Gupta (B.Tech 2nd year-Chemical Engineering), “Positive thinking is the key to get through these tough times. We need to be aware of our current situation but not at the cost of increased anxiety. Various online programs by the Institute are great ways to engage ourselves and utilize our time in the best possible ways. We are able to do what we love. We all will get through this phase – we just need to hold on till the end!”

Not only such initiatives equip the students better on academic, personal and professional fronts, but they are also an excellent means that let them stay connected with their Institutes, profs, friends, and peers, even in grave times like these. Another major plus point is that this medium of instruction is not constricted by time – the students are somewhat free to access these platforms according to their convenience. It is great to see that more and more institutions are launching similar programs in these trying times, which are helping students avoid the problems of disconnection, lethargy, and negativity – so that they can dream, learn and grow and defeat the novel coronavirus disease in their own ways!

“Online Learning is the new buzzword of today’s world. It is the future of education.”

* Please visit parts I and II for detailed information on Project ISAAC.