Merits and perils of online education during Covid

Merits and perils of online education during Covid

Merits and perils of online education during Covid

Gurbax Rawat February 22, 2021

What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? A Big Bang. Coronavirus, like an asteroid, came from nowhere and changed our world permanently. Life is never going to be the same anymore. Businesses, jobs, relationships, beliefs, societal norms; everything has been reset to a new normal.  

The devastation of almost all economy churners has been such that some of the businesses that were thriving in January this year may not even resume operations again. With the travel and hospitality industry among the worst hit another industry that has been shook by the pandemic is education. Sometime in mid-March, state governments across the country began shutting down schools and colleges temporarily as a measure to contain the spread of the virus. It’s almost 4 months and there is no certainty when they will reopen. Infact a few schools have made it amply clear that they may not resume operations before early next year. The intellectuals and the government bodies believed that the moment was opportune for online education at all levels. Decisions were taken without much due diligence required to mitigate the perils associated with online method of education. From an environment made up of chalk and powdered physical classroom, a teacher and fellow students, the realm of education has changed to a digital world. Neither the schools nor the students were prepared for this sudden change. The timing of the Covid induced lockdown cusped with the new academic session forcing all the stakeholders into a situation that none of them were familiar with. Though online education is estimated to be the most prudent approach, this indefinite closure will not only have a short-term impact on the continuity of learning for more than 500 million young learners in India but also engender far-reaching health, economic and societal consequences.

The effect of online education is being closely studied regarding its cognitive impact, reach and access as this game is being played in the confines of a home. Teachers and students have suddenly found themselves to be at the deep end of this technological teaching pedagogy. Their expertise to impart and receive knowledge via I-pads, smart phones and laptops was never considered and both the key stakeholders were expected to embrace the change for unreasonably long and odd hours, indefinitely.

The other side of the coin is bright and shiny. The move to remote learning has been enabled by several online tech platforms such as Google Classroom, Blackboard, Zoom and Microsoft Teams, all of which play an important role in this transformation. With the development of IT in education, online video-based micro-courses, e-books, simulations, models, graphics, animations, quizzes, games, and e-notes are making learning more accessible, engaging, and contextualized. Schools have always considered learning management systems, educational apps or digital learning as a supplementary tool and may have had difficulty in mainstreaming it, mostly due to not having fully understood its efficacy. However, the current situation has given an impetus to accelerate the adoption of technology and experiment with online learning and measure its success. In response to significant demand, many online learning platforms are offering free access to their services, including platforms like BYJU’s, a Bangalore-based educational technology and online tutoring firm founded in 2011, which is now the world’s most highly valued ed-tech company. Other companies are bolstering capabilities to provide a one-stop shop for teachers and students.

Some educationists feel there may be some merits to face-to-face teaching but it is not necessary, given the number of online tools and innovative methods of teaching available to enable learning. The less of face-to-face teaching you do, the better — you must have some of it, but it doesn't do much. We need teachers to make students think. They must be mentors and gurus, not someone standing in a classroom and lecturing as students take notes. Another outcome of online mode of learning could be that a good teachers will find value and be accessible to a larger number of students.

As the digital learning acceleration continues, it also brings forth the digital divide in India. Students from underprivileged backgrounds, poor communities and remote districts lack the infrastructure and the means to reap the benefits of online learning. It is difficult to imagine how these large population of already disinterested students could make sense of online system of education. The government of India, for the first time, is allowing Indian universities to offer online degrees which previously was limited to foreign universities.

The role of educational institutions has always been to connect students with teachers. In the last two decades the focus of the parents, students and institutions went beyond education to infrastructure and extra-curricular and institutions obliged by providing AC classrooms, gymnasiums and hobby classes. The quality of contemporary education is debatable.  Many parents, at all level of school education, have taken their children off the school and home tutoring them. A study suggest that extended screen time for very young students could pose a potential threat to their health and cognitive abilities. This situation is unprecedented and desperate times have called for desperate actions/reforms. A careful insight reveals numerous challenges in the near future. Parents, teachers and students may not be adequately equipped to handle those challenges.

The sudden, forced immersion of learners into virtual learning during this period of Covid-19 has proved that the education industry is disrupted. Education is going to be digital in the foreseeable future and with the right infrastructure and policies in place, we would be better prepared to handle it.

Mrs. Gurbax Rawat is a consecutively elected Councilor and an Ex-Deputy Mayor of Chandigarh.

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