COVID-19 changing the way India studies | Updated: April 28, 2020, 12:29 IST

Empty classroom in the age of online classes

The COVID-19 pandemic has left the education system disrupted across the world, with schools and universities being shut down as a precautionary measure. As of April 26, UNESCO reported that over 1.2 billion learners in 186 countries have been affected due to the closure of educational institutions announced as a part of complete or partial lockdowns.

In India, it was in March beginning when several State Governments had started to shut down schools, colleges, and coaching centers to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. Now that more than a month has passed, there is still no certainty about when the doors of these temples of education will reopen.

Notably, this period is certainly a crucial time from educational perspective in India, since various board examinations, fresh admissions to colleges and schools, and many competitive exams take place during these few months.

Consequently, this closure and standstill of the educational processes have left more than 320 million learners in India clueless and without any positive hint of the future.

While many private schools and universities have been able to switch over to online and virtual methods of taking classes, many of the government and low-income private schools, due to lack of funds and technological resources, have struggled to cater to their students through technology. Moreover, students belonging to less affluent and digitally savvy families are left behind in this race of transformation, and therefore are struggling to cope up because of the cost of digital devices and data plans. This inability of some educational bodies and learning individuals would, likely, lead to a gap in the spectrum of educational quality which can further exacerbate the socio-economic inequality. 

If educational access is dictated through access to the latest technologies, it will only increase the digital divide. This growing divide in a macro sense can also be seen internationally, between the developed and developing countries.

Considering India, various problems are developing anxiety and stress among students. At high school and intermediate level, the board exams and many entrance exams to colleges have been postponed for indefinite period of time. There is tension about how and when the admissions to colleges will take place, and whether the educational year will be delayed? At college level, the students are worried about their exams, assignments, and thesis submission. Especially, those in the final year who would have appeared in their placements by this time, had this been a normal year. After all, employment is the crux of entire education system.

Needless to say, the educational structure has adapted to the situation. Even if it is too early to determine any permanent long term change in how the educators educate students, the experts project a potential shift towards the digitalisation of education in India. Although the entire educational system is grossly underprepared for any such transformation, the governing bodies of educational institutions are being forced to opt for a digital solution as it seems the only viable solution for the current scenario. 

In recent times, there have been groundbreaking innovations, worldwide, in education technology, but even when it was available, educational institutions were rather reluctant, or say at least inefficient in embracing these developments to modernize schools & universities.

The current situation makes this change inescapable for the Indian education system. Schools and universities are now organising free online classes. Many e-learning start-ups have made their video lectures free in order to capitalise and expand their market. Students who are looking for online materials are being served by several online learning platforms like Byju’s, Unacademy, Vedantu, etc. These e-learning platforms have witnesses a manifold rise in users’ number during this lockdown period, which is also acting as the precursor to the widening scope of the digitalisation of education in India. 

This trend, as the experts predicted, is only here to stay since the online learning industry has scaled up to accommodate the influx of students during this time. As learners latch on to the bandwagon, the trend will probably not die down as the variety and flexibility offered by such platforms are unparalleled.

Since the delivery of education is disrupted due to the unprecedented situation, it is also pushing policymakers to find a solution which will drive engagement at scale while making the e-learning process inclusive and diminish the digital divide. The necessity is to devise a multi-pronged strategy to manage the current crisis as well as to build a more resilient education system in India for the future.

The crisis calls for a well-rounded effective educational practice that will help the students develop the required skills, thus ensuring the progress of India that will go beyond this pandemic.

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