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Why online learning is a litmus test for India

A positive shift is happening, from teacher-centric education to a student-centric one; but there are some riders; the institutions, policy makers, student community and parents need to mind that

Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant lockdown have been deeply disturbing the institutionalised education system in India.  Many educational institutes are leveraging it as an opportunity to deploy new technology to make education delivery possible and meaningful. Digital transformation becomes a new norm; educational institutes across the country are becoming more innovative to inculcate knowledge and professional skills through online learning and assessment.

“Our task is to make sure that learning will never be disturbed,” Dean of a private university in Pune, says. A student of the same university, who attended online courses, opines that virtual classrooms are making us close and responsible. 

A transition is happening

A positive shift is happening, from teacher-centric education to a student-centric one. With the proliferation of ICT-based education, interactive ways have emerged. Multimedia-based models are making learning more accessible and contextualised, and indeed, engaging. Online video-based courses, graphics, animations, and simulation models have great impact in these models. Online tech platforms such as Google Classroom, Blackboard, Zoom and Microsoft Teams have enabled the concept of remote learning.

Expert faculty members are available to students from across the globe on online platforms, something unimaginable in the physical classroom

Institutions and teachers are putting extra effort to engage with students in this new format by revamping timetables, and taking constant feedback from students, while some institutions are doing only bare minimum, using WhatsApp and emails to stay connected with their students.

There are also institutes that are failing miserably at this transition. The online sessions, whatever is the enabling technology, are as good as the teachers and the ability of the students to grasp the new teaching technique.  Smart classrooms are giving ample opportunities for faculty and parents to conduct meetings at different levels.

Expert faculty members are available to students from across the globe on online platforms, something unimaginable in the physical classroom.

Online learning and digital divide

Digital learning acceleration also exposes India’s digital divide. Students from rural areas and those belonging to poor socio-economic background, lack the infrastructure and the means to reap the benefits of online learning. Government initiatives to have greater penetration of telecom network and rolling out of 5G services will give a huge impetus to this sector. We have also witnessed civil society engagements to facilitate gadgets to the needy and infrastructure-support to the institutes for e-learning in their areas.

The distractions

“When students are asked questions and they don’t answer, they log out of the session; we don’t have any control,” a 12th standard physics teacher from Bangalore laments on the problems of online teaching.  Online bullying, pranks played by the students by creating fake ids, intrusion by the parents, blocking the teachers’ ID, sudden appearances of domestic helps and relatives, students using mobiles to take selfies to post on social media platforms during class are ruining the education atmosphere.

Researchers point out that the incapability of teachers to transfer face-to-face course materials to an environment of online education is a major challenge in the new scenario

Some often excuse themselves from the classes by alleging poor internet connectivity. Parent’s role is relevant here to cooperate with educators by providing distraction-free study corner and assist them in inculcating precise online behaviour to the students. Online instructors have pedagogical, social, managerial, and technical responsibilities.  It is pivotal that they must have the right attitude and perceptions about ICT so that they can integrate technology effectively in teaching.

Researchers point out that the incapability of teachers to transfer face-to-face course materials to an environment of online education is a major challenge in the new scenario. The quality of learning depends not only on how the process is carried out, but also on what content is taught and how the content is presented.

The role of online learning communities matter a lot, especially in creating a feeling of togetherness and connectedness. Researches indicate that those communities can create a connectedness feeling among fellow learners, which in turn help the students to get confidence in the process of knowledge construction.

Instructors’ perception of best practices and quality outcomes are also relevant in enhancing e-learning outcomes. Institutions must focus on pedagogical matters and emphasize more on collaborative learning, case learning, and project-based learning over online instructions.

For effective online teaching to be successful, 4 Cs are essential

India is going to witness a 50% increase in influx of students in next 15 years due to the demographic dividend and accessibility of education.  Although India has many universities and colleges, only a few have the required infrastructure and facilities to match this surge of demands in the future. In this context, e-learning will be a feasible solution for a low-cost alternative to classroom studies.

For effective online teaching to be successful, 4 Cs are essential.  Communication between teacher and students, and between peers are crucial. Consideration and flexibility in pedagogy also matters, which means, readiness to deliver the content in multiple formats as the situation demands. Consistent follow up with the students and Compassion for teaching and learning are other prerequisites.

During this pandemic situation, more than using online forum as an easy strategy for program completion, educators must use this as a medium to reach out to their students, creating belongingness by transcending barriers.

Time for a reassessment

To effectively integrate technology to learning process, lecturers should be provided with adequate training and support in using available technology and pedagogy. Opportunities to leverage through blended learning, which is the mix of synchronous and asynchronized approaches, are tested and popular model during this milieu. Compared to the normal situation, the concern, during the pandemic, is not about whether online teaching–learning methods can provide quality education; rather how academic institutions will be able to adopt online learning in a massive way. 

Let us hope that education will become our soft power in the future, transforming India into a ‘knowledge superpower’

In these disaster-like situations, universities in India will have to reassess and find new strategies to arrange their work remotely, reopen their research labs; review their approach to hybrid and online teaching. A re-examination of their existing policies, applying specific guidelines to protect privacy, assessing the balance and interactions between sciences, social sciences, management and humanities; and reset their priorities matter.

The New education policy reassures the use of technology in higher education, private philanthropic partnership and creation of National Educational Technology Forum (NETF). Let us hope that education will become our soft power in the future, transforming India into a ‘knowledge superpower’.

1 thought on “Why online learning is a litmus test for India

  1. Rightly pointed out the challenges. The NEP is surely going to be a litmus test. Let’s hope the policy to evolve constructively and accomplish a larger good…

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