The University Grants Commission has recently published draft guidelines to introduce ‘Blended Learning’ (BL) in universities. BL refers to combining face-to-face classroom learning with computer-based/digital learning.
According to the UGC, blended learning will help students flexibly mix courses and modes of learning (online/offline) as per their needs. Up to 40% of all the classroom lecture time can be online now. The proposal advises that 30% of courses being offered online at first, with the goal of increasing to 70% in the future.
The UGC’s proposal to promote blended learning have met with a lot of opposition from many student and teacher groups. The ideas in the document show a deep disconnect from social realities in India. It is important that policymakers carry out a wide consultation process with different participants of the education sector and have a real sense of challenges on the ground, before recommending such policy proposals.
Many, in response, have asked: how can BL be implemented fairly in a country with immense inequalities in digital access and college infrastructure?
Along with the above-mentioned concern, there are three more major concerns/questions which needs to be answered;
- How will technology be funded and made available?
The guidelines suggest that BL requires extensive infrastructure. This includes personal devices (phones, laptops), classroom devices (desktops, projectors), equipment for recording lecturers, various software, routers, generators, and more. If institutes are forced to purchase the technology, it will lead to a rise in college fees and make learning inaccessible to many.
- Will this increase the work done by teachers, students, and college staff?
In the name of ‘flexibility, formal learning can now happen round the clock. Teachers will have to record lectures and also give personalised attention to students in class. Students will have to do more projects, and the staff will have to administer multiple platforms. If more teachers and staff are not hired, and if minimum work hours are not regulated, this can lead to a situation of acute exploitation and over-work.
- What will be the ethical and social purpose of learning?
The guidelines imagine the student as a consumer in a marketplace who can hop and shop between courses and platforms. This promotes a consumerist approach, where one thinks of education as a commodity. There is no imagination for how BL can be used to develop social awareness, to help build a more just and equal society.
These guidelines simply celebrate the benefits of technology in education. We want our universities to be world-class. But that is not possible without attending to ground realities or being careful about problems it might create in the near future.
Any proposal for change in education has to be rooted in an ethical vision that makes education empowering for all, not just an elite few.