Here’s why college-goers in North Karnataka are bunking classes

Fear of institutional quarantine if they test positive for COVID-19, hope of getting promoted without exams, transportation hiccups make many to switch to online mode

Two weeks after the government decided to reopen engineering, diploma and degree colleges in Karnataka, the institutions, both private and public, particularly in the North Karnataka belt have recorded a thin attendance, ranging from 10-30 per cent. College professors say about a third of the overall students skip both offline and online classes.

The institutions cite two reasons for the low attendance — the stigma and fear of COVID testing, and carelessness from the first and second year students who hope the government will promote them without exams like last year.

After the pandemic broke out, the government announced shifting of classes from offline to the online platform for nearly six months, and allowed colleges to conduct offline classes from September 17. It also allowed medical and paramedical colleges in the state to reopen from December 1.

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The government made it mandatory for students, teachers and non-teaching staff to get a COVID-19-negative certificate and asked the testing labs to conduct a pool testing.

While some institutions have asked the health officials to set up kiosks on the college premises, some have asked students to get themselves tested at the district health centres.

Many students have stayed away from both, due to the fear of facing institutional quarantine if they test positive for COVID-19. However, as per the revised protocol, a COVID patient can now choose to get treated in private or government hospitals or even at home.

Principals and deans of institutions across Dharwad, Gagad, Haveri districts say that they see only 30-50 per cent of final year students and 10-30 per cent of first and second year students attending classes in colleges. The rest either skip or attend online classes.

As the government hasn’t made it mandatory for students to attend colleges, it leaves them with the option to attend either online or offline classes. But teachers say with many students not attending online classes due to lack of mobile phones or internet connectivity, the offline mode has helped them teach better and understand the students’ capabilities.

Dr SF Siddnekopp, principal of Government First Grade College in Gadag says students scoot the moment they see health officials on the campus. “Of the 184 student we have in the degree college across streams, only about 40-45 of them attend offline classes. And most of them are final year students,” he said.

The college administration is posting the Standard Operating Procedures on social media platforms to sensitise students on the rules and calling up parents and students to convince them that it is safe to attend college.

Siddnekopp says he is not comfortable taking online classes and hence uses voice recording service to record his teaching and takes the photo of the board if it involves problem solving and sends it to the WhatsApp group of students.

One of his students (name withheld) said while her parents have not agreed to get her tested, she is also comfortable in attending online classes as it poses less risk.

However, with not many students reverting with questions, Siddnekopp doubts if they actually understand what he sends them and whether or not they spent time learning.

Amid all this, the government just informed that it has decided to implement a Learning Management System-based digital learning, where students can access study material anytime and anywhere, in government higher educational institutions from the 2020-21 academic year.

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Another professor, CH Tavaragondi, principal at Sri Rambhapuri Jagadguru Veeragangadhar Arts and Commerce College in Haveri says somewhere the government has failed to communicate and boost the confidence of students and parents.

“On the one side a fear has set in due to COVID. On the other side, the government promoting students without exams last year and indicating a similar move this year has made the learning process futile,” Tavaragondi says.

“At the age of 59, I should be the one worried about COVID infections. But somehow these students who are in their 20s are afraid to come to campus fearing the pandemic,” he adds.

In his college, of the 380 students, he says barely about 45 of them make it to classes.

In certain colleges in rural areas, accessibility is yet another concern. While students wish to attend the college, the reduced frequency of bus services are keeping them away from attending offline classes.

Sudha Koujageri, principal at Government First Grade College, Annigeri (Dharwad district) says while she sees 30 per cent attendance among final year students, only about 5 per cent of students in other classes come to the college.

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“The first and second year degree students who attend offline classes are also the ones who depend on scholarships. Otherwise we would have no students walking in,” she says. “With our college located in a rural area, lack of transportation is making some students skip the offline classes.”