Dr Nisar Ahmad, Registrar of The University of Kashmir tells Umar Mukhtar
KASHMIR LIFE (KL): As the pandemic has forced all the institutions to shut their activities what has been its impact on Kashmir University?
DR NISAR AHMAD (DNA): It is an extraordinary situation for educational institutions. On one hand, we have to meet the deadlines of our academic calendar and at the same time ensure the safety of our students, teachers and staff. The third equally important dimension is to maintain quality of teaching, learning and the assessment during the pandemic. We need to be very alert and innovative to maintain the momentum and ensure our students get the best despite all odds.
KL: How is Kashmir University dealing with the situation?
DNA: The University is fully aware of the challenges and has devised the mechanism of online teaching and assessment to ensure students get proper education and complete their degrees in time. We have issued detailed guidelines for the pandemic period, ensuring the quality of teaching, examination and safety of stakeholders.
KL: Students were already alleging slow pace of examinations by the university, would it further stretch their degree length?
DNA: The academic calendar was disrupted due to various conditions beyond our control, nonetheless university has taken measures to cope with the backlog and ensure that the academic calendar is brought back on rails.
KL: Many academicians are voicing their opinions about the conduct of the examinations, one such is Open Book Examination (OBE). Is OBE really an alternative?
DNA: In most parts of the West as well as some top-ranking institutions in the country, the assessment of the students is done using various methods, parameters and scales. OBE is also one of the methods. But it cannot be purely on OBE, it has to be a combination of various techniques like MCQ, Assignments, Presentations, case studies, projects, OBE etc. and even an online exam.
KL: What about the mass promotion option? How good or bad is that for students?
DNA: The question of mass promotion does not arise. The degrees given on the basis of mass promotion are not worth the paper they are printed on. There has to be a proper examination or transparent assessment of the students to maintain the quality of education and the sanctity of the degrees. It also impacts the credibility of the institutions.
KL: Though Kashmir is a place that is frequented by shutdowns, what is the scope of the e-learning (online classes)?
DNA: The best education takes place when the teacher and taught are placed at one place and transaction of knowledge is direct. However, given the unfortunate situation and the growth of ICT online education is a viable possible solution under the circumstances. It is also a necessity now. In our case, it is more required and relevant. Online education also allows for reaching more students simultaneously.
KL: Internet is an issue here, how far could e-learning compensate in such situations?
DNA: Internet speed is a genuine issue. But we at KU have been engaging our students for online classes and assessment. Some of these students are from far off places. We are fairly successful, though there are areas where we need to further improve. We have also devised the mechanism of issuing lectures and reading materials on pen drives to those students, who have internet problems. The University departments have also been asked to procure smartphones and tabs and make them available to poor and needy students, who can’t afford these gadgets, on a returnable basis when and where required.
KL: The lockdown has hit the economy hard? Do you think fee relaxation at this point of time would be a generous move to boost the morale of the students?
DNA: The University of Kashmir has limited resources, which at times even doesn’t suffice the requirements. It is a public welfare institution charging a low fee from the students. However, we are already working on it, wherever possible we will be relaxing the norms. At present we have reduced the examination fee for students.
KL: BUMS students who are currently in the second year, allege that by 2019 November their semester should have normally ended, but it is now June 2020, their examinations are yet to be conducted, Why?
DNA: The delay in exams was beyond our control because their semester got delayed due to the situation in the valley that all of us are aware of. Unless students get enough classes as per the requirements of statutes and guidelines, exams can’t be held. Their practical exams have been already done and the theory exams are scheduled.
KL: What about the students engaged in research? Can there be a mechanism where they will be provided with a smooth environment to carry on their work?
DNA: Due to Covid-19 research work also took a hit, but we were quick enough to relax the statutes for the research including the evaluation and viva voce. The University allowed online submission and evaluation of the thesis and also allowed the conduct of Viva Voce of the students through any of the available video conferencing modes. We have also allowed researchers to do review-based research wherever the field or experimental research is not possible. The University labs were also kept open following the Standard Operational Procedures and guidelines.