Suicide by a Kerala schoolgirl allegedly over not having access to a smartphone to attend online classes, stories of students in remote areas having to sit on rooftops to catch internet and siblings competing to get their parents’ gadgets. These could be isolated cases of struggle by students to attend online classes but they reflect the larger challenge. So it is important to discuss the reforms needed during this unprecedented pandemic induced crisis.
Thanks to the era of globalisation, As we are already exposed to the process of online learning, it was not a new system to get adopted to. Though we had started with an edge over virtual learning; there are pits and bumps to be rectified in this pandemic times. Indian Education System has been heralded since ancient times so it is imperative to keep the standards of education in India at great heights even in this dynamic situation. In order to keep our education system intact, it is important to mention the already existing challenges and how to further rectify those challenges in these unpredictable times.
The three main objectives of education are the grant of knowledge, imparting skill sets to increase employability and inculcation of values and ideals so that the student perform a constructive role in shaping the progressive modern society. In order to achieve these objectives the Indian education system as an ecosystem has to function organically in tandem with its main components viz; the students, the parents and the educational institutions. The efficiency of the educational ecosystem is adversely affected by the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. Various academic activities at all levels of the education system were adjourned sine die. The present scenario has jeopardised the educational ecosystem to achieve its objectives. In this regard, multifront reforms are needed for the efficient functioning of the education system in the post-COVID-19 era. We can turn the challenges posed by the pandemic into opportunities, beyond the present crisis, and can enhance the overall efficiency of our education system.
As social distancing has become the norm in the post-COVID-19 times, at least till the advent of the vaccine, the vibrant in-person relationship between the student community and the educational institutions has been pulled down. The absence of the physical relation has wrecked the processes of knowledge transformation, skilling and value inculcation. In this regard, the reforms needed in our education system should resurrect the link between the students and educational institutions. Digitization of the learning process by harnessing Information and Communication Technology (ICT) have helped in bridging the gap between the pupils with their concerned schools. With more than 90% teledensity, digitization of learning appears unchallenging in India. Nevertheless, India is a land of paradoxes. The country is profusely divided in terms of rural-urban, rich-poor, digitally, socially, gender and regionally. First and foremost, as the students are young, virtual learning should be guided by their parents. Not all Indian parents are well aware and technologically sound. So, in this case, it is important to give a guided tool to all the parents to get a hand in online teaching.
Secondarily, the Gender gap in digital learning is also posing a great challenge in the present changed scenario. The gender divide in internet usage is also stark. As per the Internet and Mobile Association of India report, in 2019, while 67% of men had access to the internet, this figure was only at 33% for women. The disparity is more prominent in rural India, where the figures are 72% and 28% for men and women, respectively. It is also noticed that the girl students face a kind of anxiety issues when they are exposed to online learning and to handle smartphones or computers. Thus, reform processes should enable the marginalized masses to access digitized learning. Reforms should also focus on the quality of the digital educational content which should provoke the thought process of the students in an interactive way.
Electronic gadgets like smartphones, tablets and laptops coupled with the high-speed data connectivity are necessary prerequisites to be part of digital learning ecosystems. The state through the interventionist reformatory process can empower deprived masses to access digital learning. The reforms should channelize Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives, under Companies Act 2013, of corporate India to weld the digital divide. The companies should dispense electronic gadgets to marginalized students as part of their CSR spending. According to the Key Indicators of Household Social Consumption on Education in India report, based on the 2017-18 National Sample Survey, less than 15 per cent of rural Indian households have access to the internet as opposed to 42 per cent in urban households.
The state can partner with Internet Service Providers (ISP) to provide free of charge data plans with certain limits to the students. Installing at least one Wi-Fi hotspots at each gram panchayat by harnessing the BharatNet’s National Optical Fibre Network will diminish the rural-urban digital divide. The state can utilize satellite TV channels and terrestrial radio networks to cover the students residing in remote locations. The teachers along with their respective educational institutions should play the role of facilitator in digital learning. By attaining universal accessibility, the next phase of the reform process should focus on learning content. (user manual for gadgets). The power supply in all the rural areas must be taken into consideration so that it doesn’t hinder the process of learning.
The state can turn the challenge posed by the crisis into opportunity by universalizing the curriculum across pan-India. Experts panel consisting of diverse background should be formed to reformulate learning curriculum by deletion of redundant and addition of essential subject matters. Thus, the study time of students can be effectively utilised. The curriculum of higher education should be formulated to enhance employability. As various studies show around 80% of graduates learn the necessary skills after getting employed. The universalization of the curriculum enables the smooth conduct of various entry and exit exams. The learning content should be created in an engrossing manner by making use of visual media technologies. In this regard, the state can make use of leading private-sector online tutoring firms’ expertise. The curriculum should reflect the societal and constitutional values of secularism, nationalism, rationalism, scientific temper, respecting women, environmentalism and compassion.
As education is a subject under the concurrent list, the success of the universal digitised curriculum depends on cooperation between Union and various State governments. The state governments can translate and value-add the content to their region-specific without diluting the original essence. The digital learning can further be enriched by incorporating the ancient wisdom of yoga which helps in the better mental and physical health of students and in turn holistic development with life skills. Visually impaired students are facing many challenges in virtual learning, these students must be provided with appropriate laptops with braille and also provide dedicated teachers to take care of their concerns. By curriculum universalization, the autonomy at various level of the education system should not be wrecked.
In digital education ecosystem, the role of the teacher has changed from knowledge giver to facilitator. Personalised learning can come into a reality, wherein the teachers can concentrate on a few students and enhance the knowledge and skillsets in them. Teachers can also perform an active role by moderating discussing among the students. In this regard, the teacher should constantly upgrade their knowledge, as learning is a never-ending process. This can be periodically monitored by National Council for Teacher Education in coordination with concerned State councils. In this new method of virtual learning, we can improvise one to one learning and make students understand the concepts better and improvise their knowledge.
In this learning, the student-teacher ratio can be kept to the minimum. Through personalised learning, rote memory can be avoided and also it would enhance the relationship between the teacher and the students. The backend operations of learning such as attendance, performance evaluation, progress report, health status and miscellaneous data can be digitised which can be retrieved and shared easily. Human connect in learning is largely missing in these unprecedented times, but this should be compensated by the method of personalised learning.
The pandemic has endangered the nutritional health of students as they couldn’t able to access the Midday Meal Scheme implemented in their schools. This can be resolved by making students approach their nearby ICDS Anganwadi centres or by monetary transmission to their parents through DBT. Female students are more vulnerable during the crisis as they are exposed to various forms of patriarchal menace. The teachers should periodically monitor their pupils remotely leveraging technology.
If they observe any deviance, they should report to the concerned law enforcement agency immediately. It is the fundamental duty (article 51) of each parent to create a conducive learning environment, so their wards can exercise their fundamental right (article 21A) to education. Thus, through reformatory digitization of educational ecosystem, we can achieve the objectives of learning by transforming the challenges of crisis into opportunity