Education in lockdown — opportunities and challenges
By: Dr. Satyavan Saurabh
In the second week of March, state governments across the country began temporarily closing schools and colleges as a measure to stop the spread of coronavirus. Today, even after two months, there is no certainty when the schools will reopen. The current academic session could not be completed based on conventionally established norms when the policy regulators had anticipated its far-reaching impact and started working on alternative models much earlier.
Today the digital form of learning and teaching has been recognized. Face-to-face communication in the classroom has been replaced by virtual classrooms through Internet on mobile phones and laptop computers, etc. Zoom, Cisco Web X, Google Classroom, TCS Ion Digital Classroom, etc. have started making their place in the education world based on popularity. This is an important time for the education sector.
Closure of schools will not only have short-term effects on learning continuity, but will also have far-reaching consequences. The structure of schooling, including methods of teaching and evaluation, has already been such that only a few private schools could adopt online teaching methods. On the other hand, low-income private and government schools have completely shut down for not having access to e-learning.
School and university closures will not only have a short-term impact on the continuity of learning for over 285 million young learners in India, but will also have far-reaching economic and social consequences. The epidemic has also disrupted the higher education sector, which is an important determinant of the country’s economic future. A large number of Indian students enroll in universities abroad, especially in the epidemic-hit US, UK, Australia and China. Such students are now barred from entering these countries. If the situation persists, the demand for international higher education is bound to decline.
Impact on education is likely to cause harm in terms of dropout rates and learning outcomes, with children receiving fewer opportunities to learn from home. Besides, the closure of schools will increase the separate responsibility for parents that they will have to stay at home and take care of the children. It also affects productivity, loss of wages, and consequently affects the economy completely. A large number of health-care professionals are women. The presence of their children at home due to school closures can disrupt their work, causing unintended stress on healthcare-related systems.
It is also important to establish quality mechanisms and quality benchmarks for online education. Many e-learning platforms offer multiple courses on the same subject. Therefore, the quality of courses in different e-learning platforms may vary.
Failure of technology like Internet speed, connectivity problems, however remains a huge problem. Many new challenges are facing the education community. Democratization of technology is now an important issue, including Internet connectivity, telecom infrastructure, online system capability, availability of laptops/desktops, software of online education, online assessment tools, etc.
The damage to this area is similar to the damage to every region worldwide. It is possible that with some careful planning we may be able to limit the long-term consequences of this prolonged closure. For all of this to be a reality, a huge change in the thought process is needed in the minds of policy makers, officials, students and especially academics. Faculty selection should be driven gradually with technology and adoption of technology.
To begin with all this, districts in the green zone should be allowed to open schools after doing more analysis in the next few days. Strict social removal measures must be implemented, and to limit the number of students, classes may run in two four-hour shifts or with even-odd rules.
There is also a need to avoid the potential drawbacks of digital education. It is not appropriate to completely omit part of the experimental and applied knowledge of the courses which is not possible to be done effectively through digital kitchens. It would not be appropriate to just consider content delivery, question bank and dispatch of notes, just like teaching. The challenge of also providing an opportunity for communication through the adoption of a student friendly system is seen in practical form in the digital education system. There is still a search for answers to these questions.
At this time there seems to be a need to provide relaxation in the rules of general examination system and promotion in new class. Special circumstances have always demanded very specific decisions. We will be witness to some such decisions in the time to come in the wider interest of the students.
(Author is a Research Scholar in Political Science, University of Delhi)