Teaching Sociology in India During the Time of Covid-19

The COVID-19 has brought unprecedented changes in multiple facets of our existence; teaching sociology to the students in times of pandemic, adjusting oneself and the students to the online medium of instructions was something a novel task. Confined to homes, unsettled students life ratcheted during these times of uncertainty. Teaching sociology in these times of pandemic was to inculcate the students with the values of the era like promoting students hopes, ambitions, bringing up self-understanding, making sense of the sociological imagination and to a wider audience, online education during the pandemic generates more distance and that distance somewhat creates a safety net for them from the catastrophic virus.

Education in Uncertain times

As a teacher, I miss the presence of my students the atmosphere of classrooms which can never be found in an online classroom, but as a sociology teacher I tried to theorize and contextualize the alien movement to compress the global occurrences within the sociological framework. The essence of offline classrooms gets missed in the online classroom. The pandemic has forced the educators and students to switch new modes of teaching and learning, in the midst of the pandemic students engage themselves in their own pace providing the flexibility of time-zones need to decide when, where and how to learn, with careful planning, asynchronous learning can eliminate distance and time barriers to allow and cater individual learning. In order to achieve academic continuity in these times of pandemic online education is the new norm, but students’ different socio-economic backgrounds can affect online education. The preconditions of virtual education are interrupted by electricity slowdown and a lack of good internet connectivity. Estimates by National Sample Survey 75th Round report suggest that 15 percent of rural and 42 percent of urban households in the country have access to internet and 11 percent of the households (rural and urban) have less availability of computer (desktop, laptop and tablet etc. excluding smart phones). This leads to a culture of rote learning, gaps in gender education and harm to students with disabilities.

Sociology includes a lot of issues ranging from understanding people, their lives, their social situations and how we can get rid of those constraints; somehow students have been participating in the classes, doing online assignments despite barriers. We must understand students from their different social perspectives.

Pandemic Exacerbates Inequalities

From the point of view of sociological enquiry there are multiple forms of structural inequalities, an unprecedented setting to discover the social phenomena, quarantine and social distancing has created mental health crisis and social stress, anxiety and many more sad moments with the loss of near and dear ones have affected their educational levels, gendered and family lives. A sociological lens is a requirement to equip the students and analyze the roles of different institutions in times of pandemic. The student’s sociological imagination can help to cope with the situations of the pandemic. The COVID catastrophe has exposed the realities and how sociology can be an important element to understand that how the virus affects different socio-economic groups differently.

While we adjust to teach online but there are several gaps in online form of teaching and learning like scarcity of relationship building through verbal and nonverbal interactions, loss of human factor in learning, adjusting to the wide range of learners from different socio-economic backgrounds, negotiating personas of the peer-groups or class mates. With India’s pervasive digital divide many students have been denied the education online basically students belonging to the remote areas where internet is a dream to be sought as its limited to inclusivity and access for the students. As the situation in India is quite alarming as far as access or availability students belonging to the households of low bracketed incomes cannot afford a smart phone. The omnipresent equality of campus is substituted with domesticity of homes which presents a very contrasting way of learning with the rural-urban divide in access to education.

Pandemic Teaching and Challenges

Teaching sociology helps to understand the social realities, as a teacher and learner, its becomes quite feasible to understand the realities of life and the pandemic crisis. The epidemics and pandemics give a source of sociological enquiry. The social world and teaching has encountered a major shift in these times. The lines of sociological inquiry evolve with the pandemic by evaluating the marginalized, those belonging to the lower strata of society as well as differences on the basis of caste, class and gender orientations. As sociology has got a plethora of sociological theory and tools to understand social phenomena, the teaching process itself during pandemic was witnessed from the sociological lens. An opinion poll conducted among some 25 students whom I teach and 25 teachers in this profession reflected enormous problems ranging from lack of internet, where they cannot access the education, family problems related to finance and other problems like death of family members with COVID pandemic as well as families affected with the pandemic crisis so students lacked the motivation to study. The transformational shift from physical to digital classroom was in itself a major challenge to adapt.

Challenges to Teaching & LearningTeachersTotal (%)StudentsTotal (%)
Internet520 percent1040 percent
Adaptability520 percent520 percent
Lack of Motivation520 percent520 percent
Others (social causes)1040 percent520 percent
Total2510025100

From the above table it’s clearly predicted that teachers as well as students suffer from the challenges confronting teaching and learning process in sociology and sociology as a discipline has empowered them as they have been trying to adapt it by applicability of new methodology.

Sociology in Teaching

As sociologists have observed that physical distancing is the only key of getting through COVID-19 pandemic and decelerating its spread so there is a high need to connect to the people by adopting technologies in their social and cultural lives. As COVID has impacted the educational institutions and pandemics have been one of the researched topics by the sociologists, while the students can easily adapt to the pandemic as they could understand from the sociological gaze the inbuilt socio-economic and structural inequalities within this time period. The rampant educational inequalities, norms of the day social control in the form of social distancing and masking were some of the societal aspects that are taught by the sociological curriculum.

Pandemics are epochal events and they reshape the society, perhaps the most significant impact will be our relationship with technology, it’s very essential to teach and research on sociological implications of this pandemic while the crisis is moving in phases. Therefore sociological knowledge is vital in understanding the crisis situation along with medical knowledge and logical insights. As we enter the uncertainty of classrooms there is a dire need to empower the students, identifying the social supports and develop strategies to make the online class quite debatable and interesting. The subject of sociology has been an important element in framing the complex social structure dynamics of the pandemic, helps in rebuilding the class structures virtually, managing emotional and psychological well-being by addressing the anxieties and mental health concerns of the students.

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Nupur Pattanaik

Nupur Pattanaik teaches sociology in the Department of Sociology at the Central University of Odisha, Koraput. She specializes on issues of gender, migration, tribal and labor sociology.

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