The cancellation of school board examinations presents, somewhat ironically, a window of opportunity to rethink admission procedures and practices for the higher education space. As HEIs (Higher Education Institutes) still wrestle with the tectonic impact of Covid that disrupted established modes of functioning, millions of potential school leavers grapple with the myriad anxieties of uncertain futures. For the freshman undergraduate cohort of 2020, college as a community of learning and collaborative imagination embedded in the collective consciousness evaporated into the experience of the academy as truncated and interrupted. The aspirational context for individual agency dissolved into an alienating mirage.
The online teaching-learning necessitated by Covid lockdowns and HEI closures has had its own sets of challenges, leaving both teachers and students largely dissatisfied. Where education shifted from class to home, students with special needs, women students with care responsibilities, those dependent on ‘work study’ incomes, those waiting to transit to chosen university destination or enter the labour market and those with uneven access to technology, online resources, internet connectivity, suitable physical space to support learning, were disproportionately affected. Given the pervasive class, caste, gender and locational inequalities, the access and equity issues of India’s digital divide surfaced dramatically, compounding social and pedagogical challenges. In the switch to ‘blend learning’, several options and possibilities provided by the asynchronous learning model were left unexplored. In the complex ecosystem of higher education in India, comprising over 1000 universities, approximately 40,000 colleges and around 10,000 stand-alone institutions, with varying levels of resource and infrastructure, the ‘digital panacea’ felt woefully short.