We need to Remember that this is an Era of Social Distancing and Not Emotional Distancing: Prof. Ramesh Kumar Choudhary, former VC, AP Goyal Shimla University, Shimla

What makes Professor Ramesh Kumar Choudhary, former Vice Chancellor of AP Goyal Shimla University– THE WISE CHANCELLOR – Watch  an exclusive conversation of insights and inspiration with Chetan Sharma, Founder Edumate.tv

Today, we have a very special guest with us. Mr Ramesh Choudhary, former Vice Chancellor of AP Goyal Shimla University, Shimla. Currently the Vice-Chancellor of Venkateshwara Open University Thank you so much for joining us Prof. Choudhary. What a pleasure to be connected with you.

Every crisis Dr Choudhary has an opportunity. Perhaps, this is a special opportunity for places like Shimla on account of its location and on account of the entire demography of that area. Simply because if you see most of the cases of coronavirus is in urban areas, it may encourage students to go and study in a place like Shimla. Do you see that as an opportunity for yourself. ? 

Guest  – I don’t only see, I realised it as an opportunity and I am very happy to share with you that this Shimla University has converted. This pandemic as we all know has affected all sections of society and education is the most. As per the UNESCO report 98% of education institutions are shut down, and are closed.  And it has affected 200 plus countries. The Indian Education System is not ready, not geared up because still the Blended learning was very distant  in the Indian Education system. But I am very happy and why I call it an opportunity and a blessing in disguise because Shimla University had adopted the Outcome Based Education System in 2019.and for achieving the Outcome based education system we implemented Adage which is a  learning management software. So we did  a pilot project from August 2019 to December where we felt the power of the LMS, we felt the importance of the Outcome based education system in higher education. .And then it was decided to implement it completely. So, from  January we implemented. We  completed all learning and teaching pieces and then  we transferred to Adage, the LMS.And in March, you know all of a sudden we were all of a sudden forced and we closed on it. For a time it was a shock to us, but then we found that we were in the most comfortable position,80% of our teaching and learning practices were already online. We were doing everything, right from the assignment submission to the program outcome and course outcome, online. So what we did , we converted it into an opportunity and with the help of  Google classes and other platforms we have achieved 100% digital learning.

Quite remarkable. And thank you for bringing that out with a sense of humility and honesty. And you know what’s important  Prof. Choudhary,  they always  say that life comes a full circle. There will always be situations where some people will get an advantage and others will not. This of course is the time when those who build institutions and  have taken the effort, taken the risk and trouble, to build them, in areas which were not urban, should be and have  prepared themselves on the online platform for distance education, should be beneficiaries and that that’s how things even out. On the other hand there is also an apprehension that, and this I say that after having spoken to students and parents over the last 100 days, that there is a hesitancy to send the students outside the state. There is a feeling that perhaps, given the migrant labour crisis and given the impending parallel of a migrant student crisis, whether in India or abroad parents are far more comfortable with ensuring that their ward studies in the same state. If that is the case, then there could be a disadvantage in a small state like yours. Did you see that as a threat  at some point in point?

You see it is a challenging time for human civilization and everybody is suffering with the confusion and uncertainties. And same with the students, the parents, the mobility of the students, the migration of the students will by far, be affected. But what I understand and what I would like to convey to the parents is that it is a testing  time for all of us we have to show a brave face and how we are meeting the challenges is very important. And in this endeavour even the Indian regulation bodies like UGCA and other regulating bodies, regulating the higher education systems, have also come out with proposals You see we should understand that technology has progressed a lot and as UGC envisions, till situation is coming normal and till normalcy is prevailing, the online education will continue. .There are so many other things. The government of India has initiated the  Swayam Program under the Ministry of HRD and I am very happy that Shimla University has been awarded the local Chapter of the Centre. What I am trying to convey to the parents and students is that there is nothing to be panicked about, there is nothing to be worried about and you should look forward. As you have seen in between the semester also, when the pandemic happened, we were able to sail through. Normalcy will definitely come. And the most important thing is that when it is a hard time the characteristics that you show, the hard work that you show is going to be with you in the coming time.. So, this is the time you shape yourself and at the same time your academics should not be affected., your learning and teaching should not be affected. There are ways in which the Indian Higher education has come up with, for giving opportunities so there is nothing to worry, And in spite of all this we have a very encouraging response. Yes, international students may be affected this year.

 It is interesting that you should say that. It is also interesting that you have a 100% online education which is quite brilliant and inspiration for a lot of other institutions in this country and I hope that when this interview reaches them they will be inspired by what you say. But at a time when this country’s biggest threat, like the most dangerous threat  is not from outside It is from inside and the digital divide because most of India is not connected with digital infrastructure or devices. So in a scenario like that if you have a 100% online education, i  mean are you also suggesting that your students are from a certain strata of society, an affordable, strata of society and not catering to a lesser part of society, is that a part of your strategy or have you ensured that the lesser strata of society have actually been provided with devices? So, how does that work?

Especially in a country like India, where haves and have nots are still there , not everyone is leveraging digital learning and it is not practically  possible, University like us may say but  there are a lot of other educational institutions which are facing problems. But my answer is that I tell you I have learnt about a very good experiment in education done by the Chhattisgarh govt. And for their school education. What they have done, where their students are in the rural area. and there are  problems with their smartphones, problem  of bandwidth and interconnectivity, what they have done is that through voice messages the classroom lectures were recorded. The experiment has worked. But Chetan, I am a teacher basically and I cannot say that the digital divide that you are talking about is a substitute for the contact hours , is a substitute of the real classroom. But I see that the education system and business enterprise is going to evolve where the things will be blended and what will happen is that like we are meeting today virtually, but cant give the studio feeling So, for the time being it will work. I should think that  it will be a mixed thing. It will be a blended kind of thing. There are so many tools that have been developed, like podcasts, by which we can reach the school children and children who live in the rural areas. So where there is a will there’s a way.

 Absolutely, and that’s very very thoughtful of you to say that. Now talk us through, you’ve of course mentioned the blessing in disguise, but I’m sure there were many challenges as well. Talk us through your unique challenges.

Unique challenge is that, when we are talking about technology, we do not have manpower trained or suitable. Faculty development programs we were doing were talking about subject matter and soft skills, but we were never talking about the acceptability of technology. So, this is the unique challenge for the education sector. And another thing is, that what I am visualising as an educationist , is the best optimised model for the education system. I have come to know that a lot of educational institutions are stuck with the viva voice. Kind of examinations and they were post graduate examinations and they were stuck because of non availability of time and not possibly of the experts.

So,  to overcome the challenges, Dr. Choudhury What would be your advice to the various cross sections of education(a) to the parent, (b) to the students and © to the teachers?

My advice first thing is that we overcome the uncertainty. We must remember that after every night there is always a glorious morning. So the society is a little bit,  if we speak to the peers, confused. They are uncertain. So, we should overcome all these things. Because this is not the first time we are facing human civilization problems. Earlier also. So, we require to be strong and we require to be very positive. And we need to remember that this is the era of social distancing and not emotional distancing.  We always keep in touch with each other.

I call it the PPP model. Not the Public Private partnership, but being Pragmatic, , being Positive and being Progressive. . Thank you for ratifying this. Talk us through DR. Choudhary. You’ve had an exemplary career. Talk us through your career, what have been the high points and what has been the learning.

See, in Shimla University we call it Nature nurtures young minds. This is the most conducive place where you can study and evolve yourself as a professional. This is a very professional university with multi – disciplinary courses. We are very innovative. We are one of the leading Universities of the world. We have implemented an Outcome based Education System where at the end of the semester we are able to calculate in quantitative manner , the outcome of the  learning and teaching practices, in terms of student satisfaction and teacher achievement.

How lovely to know that. Dr. Choudhary, you’ve had a very exemplary and interesting personal career path. And the reason I want you to walk us through your career path, the highlights and the learning is simply because  there are other academicians who aspire to become Vice Chancellors and as famous as you.

As an academician you have very good publications, you have a very good illustrious resume- you might have it but if you want to claim yourself as a proud academician, you have to think of students first.  Then you are a true academician. Because they are coming with very high hopes to you. They are giving you an opportunity to shape their career. Do the best you can do for your students. Maybe it is in academics, maybe it is a personal goal, maybe its personal care, maybe it is connectivity to the parents. You always think that you are made for the students. Your business is students so you should always think about your students and how you can give the best to your students.

So, what you are saying is that the focus has to be on the subject of education and on teaching. And on Learning while you are teaching and teaching while you are learning, because once that symbiotic relationship develops, everything else is a by product and excellence is bound to happen.

Because, remember we are from the country of India, where the value of Guru is bigger than God. Guru Gobind dou khade kake lagu paye balihari guru appne jin govind diyo btaye. This is the piousness of this position. You always realize and understand the kind of belief system of the parents, the students and the teachers

It sounds very good, sounds very noble and all of us enjoy when we  hear such things in the field of education .But we cant distance ourselves from the fact that education is also a business and now business in education is a challenge particularly at the time when reports have come in, parents are not willing to pay fees for their children, they feel enough education is not being imparted, schools and institutions should not be charging them the monies. On the other hand the institution says they have to pay the salaries . So, there is a bit of  log jam. Would you like to throw your inputs on that?

See Chetan, you are right. Things have changed and we’re living in a different world but still teaching is a very noble profession.  It is not money oriented, the way it has been projected recently in the private education system And of course every relationship has a give and take You are not working just for the salary or for the payment you are drawing. You are working for the benefit of the students There are other professions where this kind of emotional sentiment is not there. Also, some irresponsible statement has been made. I understand the irony of the education sector. Recently the High Court of Punjab has given. I believe that this was a  sentimental and emotional statement that has been issued and that has created confusion. The private education institutions are not given any funding or any support by anybody. Even the packages that the govt has announced, no way it is benefitting the educational sector. And then you expect educational institutions should fulfil its commitment . So we have to understand that it should be a win-win situation.

Edumate.Tv, I believe has  a very nice  endeavour where you are actually connecting with the education leaders and talking and understanding the challenges and  basically how the education sector has encountered this pandemic. And you are trying to understand the vision plan so I must congratulate you Chetan and Edumate.Tv and I wish you very good luck and I highly appreciate the kind of questions raised in this area and I believe that these kind of brainstorming and discussion sessions will definitely give a better shape to the educational sector. Thank you Chetan!

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