As classes move online, IITs find 10% students can’t access lessons from home

IITs in Kanpur, Guwahati, Delhi and Mumbai had recently asked students about the quality of internet access available with them to ascertain whether everyone will be able to participate in the online learning exercise

As the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) gradually migrate classes online, many institutes have discovered that about 10 per cent of their students are not equipped to access such instruction from home. All schools and higher education institutions are closed in the country in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. Except IIT-Kharagpur, all older IITs have sent students home.

IITs in Kanpur, Guwahati, Delhi and Mumbai had recently sought feedback from students on the quality of internet access available with them to ascertain whether everyone will be able to participate in the online learning exercise. Officials of the above institutes told The Indian Express that about 10 per cent to 15 per cent had reported issues ranging from poor connectivity to insufficient data plan for downloading video lectures.

The Board for Student Publication at IIT-Delhi, for instance, asked students on March 24 to fill up a survey form on the quality of internet connection at their disposal and the material size that students can download every day. About 2,600 unique responses were received, and the results were shared with the administration to help them plan online lessons.

The IIT-Kanpur survey found that 9.3 per cent of its 2,789 students, who responded to the survey, cannot download any material or study online. And only 34.1 per cent of the respondents have internet connection good enough for streaming real-time lectures.

The results weren’t unexpected for the administration as the IITs admit a significant chunk of students from families with an annual income of less than Rs 1,00,000 per year (Rs 8,333 per month). In 2018, 26 per cent of the roughly 32,000 candidates who qualified JEE (Advanced) were from this income category.

Each of the older institutes, therefore, is trying to upload content that consumes less data, with some even stepping up to help students financially to buy better internet data plans to access resources online.

IIT-Roorkee and IIT-Bombay will reimburse Rs 500 and Rs 250 per student, respectively, towards the cost of purchasing better internet data plans. “We have about 2,500 students in our students who receive some kind of tuition fee waiver. We apportioned a budget of Rs 500 for each of these students, in case they want to buy a better plan,” said IIT-Roorkee director Ajit Chaturvedi.

Professor Shantanu Roy, IIT-Delhi’s dean of academics, said “We are not doing anything that will demand a lot of bandwidth. There will be lecture notes in the shape of PDF files. In case the course content is such that it requires lecturing, then teachers have been asked to record voice notes which can be transferred easily on WhatsApp. In case there are video lectures, then we are providing the alternative to convert it into an audio only file.”

IIT-Madras too is not asking teachers to teach real-time on the presumption that some students may have weak internet connectivity. “It really doesn’t matter if the percentage (of students with irregular internet access) is 5 or 10 per cent. We cannot leave anyone out. Hence, we are not presuming live classes are possible. We are depending on recordings,” said IIT-Madras director Bhaskar Ramamurthi.

But what if there’s still one student who cannot access anything at all?

“Well, in that case, we are not trying to complete the semester through online learning. We are trying out the flipped classroom model in which online resources will only aid full-time teaching on campus when the institute reopens. When the students come back, they will have three to four weeks to access this content on campus with the institute’s internet connection,” Roy added.

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