Is higher education immune to pandemic? Yes, Pandemic will definitely change the education system but for the better functioning of it. Considering India’s strength, it is one of the educational hubs in the world and Indian education system is third highest, next to the United States and China.

The projections indicate that in view of global distribution of students with territory education, India will have 23 % of students (300 million) with the age group of 25-34 by 2030. A quantum jumps from 137 million in 2013.

Globally due to Covid-19 pandemic, 200 million higher education students are unable to attend the campus where virtual mobility facilitated 60% of the teaching learning process. India’s e-learning market is projected to grow by 15.64 percent by 2021.

As per the 2017-18 National Sample survey on education, while 24% Indians own a smartphone, only 11% of households possess any computer and only 24% of Indian households have an internet facility

But before exploring this market India needs to consider some major challenges in digital learning. The first to top the list is the disparity in access to electricity, internet connections and devices such as computer or smartphones.

As per the 2017-18 National Sample survey on education, while 24% Indians own a smartphone, only 11% of households possess any computer and only 24% of Indian households have an internet facility. While 66% of India’s population lives in villages, only 15% of rural households have access to internet services compared to 42% of urban households.

Digital India and skill India mission aims to spread digital literacy and to bridge the gap of urban- rural divide among the students by connecting the remotest villages through WIFI and broadband to create a knowledge-based society in India based on three principles ‘access, equity and quality’.

Online learning is only a tool, not a goal

Indian universities that  have invested both in digital infrastructure and faculty training in content preparation and delivery are successful in effectively use their digital tools to continue their academic endeavours during the unexpected campus closure due to covid-19 lockdowns. This also activated the options of existing SWAYAM- a mock platform funded by MHRD to the students and faculties in mapping the courses for optimal utilisation of resources.

 Image: Alexandra Koch/Pixabay

Apart from government initiatives, NIIT is offering online courses from leading international universities with US-based edX. National Program on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL) funded by MHRD is helping the educational intuitions to have access to these lectures.

There are 28 digital initiatives of the Government of India to scale up the skills, still investment in digital infrastructure and public- private partnership in digital technology space for the same is indispensable for higher education.

Covid-19 situation allowed top 100 institutions in India’s NIRF ranking to offer fully online courses through multiple mediums such as television and radio for students who don’t have constant access to the internet

Except IIMs, IITs and NITs, investment in digital education infrastructure were meagre across universities in India, as approval of online and distance programs are not valued in the educational culture of India. Only seven universities in India are recognised by UGC to offer programs through online mode. Indian universities and colleges were not permitted to offer more than 20 percent of a degree online, in part because of concerns about quality and limited mechanisms of regulation.

Covid-19 situation allowed top 100 institutions in India’s NIRF ranking to offer fully online courses through multiple mediums such as television and radio for students who don’t have constant access to the internet as part of Atmanirbhar Bharat with restricted subject areas. This new policy decisions will enable Indian universities to integrate edX courses into their core curriculum.

In order to integrate digital technologies to Indian educational settings focus must be on infrastructure devices and software operations and investment, auditing the resources, and readiness to adapt to new technology.

Also digital competency, expertise in content creation and delivery, access to guided digital content, pedagogical calibration, content repository and sharing platform management, copyright, and licence and usage policy will be important boosters. Benchmarking on   assessment evaluation and grading polices, academic ethics, criterion for mutual recognition of courses, time management, peer learning, learnability and the performance appraisal & reward is crucial.

Digital media and the internet have ushered in a democracy of knowledge where education has become an experiential, collaborative and self-driven enterprise rather than just an academic enterprise. Preparedness and leadership in times of crisis is the essence of progressive development.

Online learning is only a tool, not a goal. Higher education institutions are the settings to proactively involve and fostering the models of change but have the innate tendency to averse the risks and inhibit their innovation potentials. Therefore, the only option left is to convert this Covid crisis in the opportunity of convergence.  

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