KREA University’s vice-chancellor Sunder Ramaswamy says that none of its classes are about dispensing information, rather it makes students learn how to think like a mathematician, a scientist, a philosopher
KREA University’s mission statement reads ‘to help humanity prepare for an unpredictable world.’ Sunder Ramaswamy, the vice-chancellor of Sricity, Andhra Pradesh-based university says that he now uses this phrase to encourage students. “I tell them you signed for this, and the world cannot get any more unpredictable than now. How you adapt and how resilient you are will define your future; the same holds true for faculty members.”
KREA went into lockdown on March 16, but smoothly. It finished the trimester for its IFMR Graduate School of Business on time, and for the undergraduate batch in early June. It did, however, face some challenges. “We have students from all over the country and across economic strata; for some students getting access to internet was difficult, so we spend time to make sure everyone was connected and was able to learn online,” Ramaswamy adds. “There were hiccups, of course. For example, some students faced Zoom burnout, so we had a mid-semester break.”
KREA used a combination of high-tech and traditional solutions to impart learning during the lockdown. If any student faced poor internet connectivity, the faculty conducted one-on-one phone call sessions, or recorded the lectures and shared with them.
KREA also faced challenges it wasn’t prepared for. “One of our students lives in a small village with 10-odd family members in one room. So I spoke to the village headman who helped arrange a marriage hall so that he could study,” Ramaswamy says. “Our approach is that each student matters.”
While KREA, like all universities, is awaiting guidelines from the MHRD and the UGC for restarting physical classrooms, Ramaswamy says there are multiple options. Its 40-acre campus can accommodate 700-800 students. “One option is to hold classes in a phased manner, or we may think of a blended approach.”
An advantage KREA has is that it’s removed from a major city, so it’s possible to create a safe bubble whenever physical classrooms start. “We can control who comes in and goes out. Because if you are waiting for Covid-19 to disappear, then it might take more than a year, so the best thing to do is to adapt and try and mitigate risks,” Ramaswamy says.
A positive outcome of online teaching is that students who are usually shy to speak up in a physical classroom are now much more vocal. “Some aspects of teaching online can be very effective,” he says.
Ramaswamy adds that, in the internet age, there is nothing ‘new’ in terms of content that an educator can teach students. “All information is available online, and yet the relevance of a teacher, a guru, has only increased. Today, education is about how to learn to learn. None of our classes are about dispensing information; we make students learn how to think like a mathematician, a scientist, a philosopher.” That, he adds, is what defines its students, its faculty, and the university itself.