Colleges, students grapple with pandemic truths

Published on May 30, 2021 12:48 AM IST

In the final year of her BSc Botany course, Anisha was supposed to learn how to use a spectrophotometer to measure the amount of photons absorbed by plants

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HT Image
ByPriyanka Sahoo, Mumbai

In the final year of her BSc Botany course, Anisha was supposed to learn how to use a spectrophotometer to measure the amount of photons absorbed by plants. However, the 22-year-old will soon graduate with a degree in Botany from a suburban college in Mumbai without having seen the instrument in person.

“I saw a video of my teacher performing the experiment, but never really saw it,” she said.

The Covid-19 pandemic shut down almost all campuses across the country. While educational institutes were quick to move to online mode of education, the pandemic deprived students of practical knowledge that students learn on campus. Many will graduate this year without having set foot in a laboratory for more than a year.

Faculty members and principals of various colleges in the city highlighted a skill gap that will affect prospects of the graduates in getting admission to higher education institutes as well as job opportunities.

“Graduating students, who haven’t been on campus for more than a year, will miss out on the experience of doing a practical experiment. The problem is students will not know how to operate an instrument properly because they have only seen it in pictures or videos,” said principal of a prominent college in the city.

Admissions: How to compare apples to oranges

Admission to degree colleges is going to be a tough affair this year, especially with different boards adopting different methodologies to mark students. “For example, state board has cancelled exams. The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) is yet to decide. That’s apples and oranges. How do you define merit without bringing students from different boards to the same level,” asked principal of a suburban college.

Drawing up merit lists is going to be difficult this year, said most principals interviewed by HT. All of them requested anonymity.

Unlike professional courses such as medicine, engineering and law where candidates have to take a centralised exam, admission to degree colleges affiliated to the University of Mumbai (MU) are based on students’ performance in board exams.

“Online exams are not a proper reflection of a students’ understanding of a subject. So to judge the students on online exams is not appropriate,” said a principal.

While some colleges conduct entrance exams for some niche courses, holding entrance exams for all subjects would require enormous resources that colleges lack at short notice. “However, it is not impossible. In a meeting with state government officials, we, principals, have suggested ways of conducting online entrance exams,” said Kishore Peshori, principal, MMK College of Commerce, Bandra.

“Until last year, even for niche courses, 70% weightage was on entrance exam and 30% on board results. This year, we are planning to make it 100% on entrance exam,” said a principal.

Hiring: Bridging an irreparable skill gap

Every year when the Union budget is announced, final year BCom students of HR College in Churchgate watch the speech with their faculty and engage in analysis. This year, the event happened online as students and faculty joined in virtually.

“It is a universal fact that there is an irreparable skill gap. The onus is now on colleges and students themselves to bridge this gap in the best possible way, given the circumstances,” said Navin Punjabi, assistant professor and director (placements) at HR College.

He said that this year recruiters have been preferring students who are skilled to start working virtually. “Recruiters are realising that if the student can start working from home, they can save time and resources on on-boarding the new recruit in the virtual process. So, we are trying to train our students in the same,” Punjabi added.

Paavan Choudary, founder of Merilytics, an analytics solution firm that rolled out over 100 offers across premiere institutes such as Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), agreed with Punjabi.

“The pandemic has been both a boon and a bane for talent acquisition. On one hand, due to virtual processes, we are able to expand our reach of campuses, but on the other hand, it has become highly competitive to find talent. We don’t think any additional training is necessary, at least from our perspective, but the on-boarding processes are largely virtual, which implies we have to budget more time for people to integrate,” said Choudary.

Over the last weekend, Scaler, an upskilling platform for students and working professionals in the technology space, held a virtual job fair for students. “Virtual hiring events are becoming the new normal. Our online assessment test platform is being used by many technology companies for screening their new recruits,” said Abhimanyu Saxena, co-founder of Scaler.

He said that many technology firms are adding an additional screening level and asking students to take live coding tests. Video CVs are also becoming increasingly popular among recruiters.

“We have already introduced an additional level of screening by introducing video proctoring during an online test and virtual interviews. We have been using video CVs as the first step along with resume as it helps in the selection process. Coding tests with real-time compilers are used to assess coding ability. Students can take the online test/interviews from their location using laptop or desktop or mobile phone. In case of any suspicious activity by the student, the system warns the candidate and shares the final report with the recruiter whether the student was found suspicious or non-suspicious during the process,” said SJ Raj, senior vice-president, human resources operations, Newgen Software, a digital transformation firm.

Raj said that even as the pandemic subsides, companies may continue to use technology. “In the future, considering most of the colleges are off city limits, technology will be the big enabler. It will be a hybrid model wherein local colleges can be covered offline while outstation colleges can be covered with the online process to optimise our effort and cost,” he said.

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