Context: All over the world the education system has been drastically affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
- Most instruction in the educational sector has moved online; across the country, schools, colleges, universities, and research establishments have been shut with no surety of when it will be possible to safely reopen.
- Higher education has gone digital where possible; or else it has simply been put on hold.
- Other countries worldwide have embraced online education with mixed enthusiasm.
- Many universities in the United Kingdom and the United States have announced that the coming academic year will be held mainly online.
- However, at the same time, educationists and policymakers advise caution during this move considering that online education has not lived up to its potential.
Response of the Indian education system:
- Considering diversity in institutions of higher education - private and governmental colleges and universities, research institutes, professional colleges, State and central universities, etc — the Indian education system has had a very heterogeneous response to the pandemic.
- These reactions also reflect the contrast in rural versus urban infrastructure, the variable quality of staff, and the diverse types of subjects that are taught.
- Courses that traditionally need a laboratory or practical component
- From a purely pedagogic point of view, it is clear that technology will play a bigger role in education in the future. However, it will be highly subject-specific.
- On the other hand, courses that traditionally need a laboratory or practical component are an obvious example where online classes cannot offer an alternative.
- Huge digital divide
- The adoption or integration of technology in education also depends on the specific institution and its location.
- Currently, there is a huge digital divide in the country in terms of bandwidth and reliable connectivity, as well as very unequal access to funding.
- Lack of adequate infrastructure especially for certain sections
- Not all students have equal access to the Internet, and more than half in any class in any institution is simply not able to attend lectures in real-time.
- This is mainly because of the lack of the required combination of hardware and electrical connectivity in their homes.
- This is more pronounced in rural areas and non-metro cities, and for lower-income groups as well.
- Serious impact on academic research
- Beyond classroom lectures and courses, there has been a serious impact on academic research in all disciplines.
- There is a need for close personal interaction and discussion in research supervision, and it is not clear when and how doctoral research and supervision can resume.
- Also, the related economic crisis has consequences for funding, both of research as well as for the maintenance of research infrastructure.
- Lack of quality and quantity of online courses
- The shift to the online system is in response to a crisis and was poorly planned.
- Online teaching is a separate didactic genre in itself and it requires investment of time and resources that very few teachers could come up with in a hurry.
- Many online classes are poorly executed video versions of regular classroom lectures. Across the board, teachers recognize this as unsatisfactory.
- Enhancing the quality of online education
- Online higher education using massive open online classrooms(MOOCs), has been encouraged by the government via the National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL) and SWAYAM platforms.
- However, both the quality and quantity of online courses need to be enhanced.
- Democratisation of knowledge
- This is considered as a chance to re-imagine higher education in India. For long this has been elitist and exclusionary; education has been less about learning and more about acquiring degrees.
- Making lectures available online in public and open websites accelerates democratisation of knowledge and the wide distribution of learning opportunities.
- Using advanced technologies
- Significant qualitative changes can come about if we plan now. Digital tools such as artificial intelligence (AI) can be adapted to deliver personalised instruction based on the learning needs of each student.
- The use of AI can improve learning outcomes; in particular, this can be a boon for teaching students who are differently-abled.
- Decentralisation in education
- The adoption of online education needs to be done with sensitivity. What is needed at this time is imagination and a commitment to decentralisation in education.
- Pedagogic material must be made available in our other national languages; this will surely extend access, and can help overcome staff shortages that plague remote institutions.
- Implementing a new pedagogical paradigm
- There are simpler ways to validate pedagogy, some of which can be found in our own traditions. As an example Gandhi's “Nai Talim” put a high premium on self study and experiential learning.
- The government will have to bear much of the responsibility, both
- To improve digital infrastructure and
- To ensure that every needy student has access to a laptop or smartphone.
- Estimates are that COVID-19 will be seasonal, recurring every so often till 2022 or maybe 2024.
- So when these institutions reopen, they must do so with extreme caution.
- Blended modes of education will be unavoidable: online instruction where possible, and limited contact for laboratory instruction and individual mentoring