How a Tiny, Invisible Virus has posed the biggest test for the Education Industry

Vasant Valley school, Delhi. Photo by: Yasir Iqbal

It has been around five months since 11th March 2020 when the World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic, about six months since it was declared a public health emergency, and a little over nine months since the disease was first reported. This pandemic has, as we come to terms, the potential to change the entire world order. In various circles, this is already seen as a historical divide, BC (before Corona) and AC (after Corona).

Around the world, educational institutions at all levels have taken a serious hit in just a short span of time. The very nature of COVID-19 and how easily it spreads has forced all schools, colleges and universities to shut down for good. Early Childhood Centres, are amongst the worst hit as a consequence of the nation-wide lockdown implemented by the respective governments. Since, mid-March, all schools without exceptions have been shut: classes have been suspended, examinations and research work including all laboratory experiments have been postponed until further notice.

Students across the globe are left high and dry, facing an uncertain present and an even more uncertain future. Although the UGC (University Grants Commission) in India and various universities have quickly shifted to conducting classes and examinations online, its implementation in the country is far from ideal. Access to smartphones and the internet has grown rapidly but is still not sufficient to cover the massive no. of students residing across the country.

A teacher recording a lecture using her smartphone.

At the same time, it is important to not shy away from technology as it will play a crucial role, in not only delivering education in the present but also beyond just the foreseeable future. It is at this juncture that we must take a step back and look from a bird's eye view with regards to how imparting education through traditional methods can be restructured to a more hybrid format where technology is leveraged to not just compensate for the lack of personal touch but also to provide insights that can improve the education system as a whole on either end. How administrators and teachers respond to these difficult circumstances will decide the future for millions of students particularly the ones who are in the final stages of completing their respective courses or degrees.

Every discipline, however, will face a different challenge in the process of adapting to online learning. Courses which predominantly have had a laboratory component will need a redesign. Compared to urban students, the challenge to switch to online education will be the toughest for the students living in rural areas as the traditional methods of learning give way to new pedagogic techniques.

Compared to urban students, the challenge to switch to online education will be the toughest for the students living in rural areas as the traditional methods of learning give way to new pedagogic techniques.

According to a recent survey conducted by IIT Kanpur, 9.3 per cent of 2,789 students were not able to download material sent by the institution or study online. Only 34.1 per cent of them had internet connection good enough for streaming real-time lectures. Another survey conducted by LocalCircles among 25,000 respondents found that only 57 per cent of students had the required hardware — computer, router, and printer — at home to attend online classes.

Virtual reality: Jai kapoor engaged in an e-class. Photo by: Hardik Chhabra

It is premature to say how and when the schools will reopen and the adjust to the new demands in delivering lectures whilst maintaining safety protocols but the data so far is sketching a bleak picture for now. Online classes have been implemented by all sorts of institutions largely because there’s no alternative to keep the cash flow going, but the experience so far has been a mixed bag. From teachers not having adequate training and equipment to deliver online classes to students not necessarily having the required resources to access or attend the same.

The discussion, therefore, is intended to gather the experiences and to analyse the data about the present and the future of education with regards to ongoing COVID pandemic, from academicians and non-academics cutting across various disciplines and geographical boundaries.

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