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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

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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’.

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1 Comment

  1. Dr. Shekhar Borhade

    August 4, 2020 at 5:23 pm

    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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EP SPECIALS

Teachers and Parents as Role Models for Students – Why Actions must replace just theory

School wasn’t just a platform for learning (nor it is even today) but was a place that students looked forward to going every day, with cheer

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The moment a question during a lecture or discussion on Role Models is asked, especially to school students, answers of different types crop up, possibly based on their thought process and the traits they hold close to their heart.

We have been promoting the idea of Role Models in life, to make sure, at least for practical purposes, that students think of or emulate someone for whom they have a high level of regard or respect in life and also those that align with their own frame of mind.

He or she could be anyone-from sportsperson to businessman, from scientist to movie star.

One of the striking aspects these days is that the number which quotes the names of teachers or parents is diminishing. This is in contrast to the earlier times when both teachers and parents were among the favourites to be considered as Role Models.

So, a Ronaldo, a Mohanlal, Dr.APJ or a Bill Gates are more common answers.

What then, has been the reason for a change?

Predominantly and predictably, technology has played a major role in this change and so have social media. EASY access to information and the glorification of many characters including celebrities from various fields through umpteen channels and other platforms has possibly been one of the reasons. Added to this are the marketing campaigns, brand endorsements, stage shows, writeups and so on and so forth, available just by sliding a finger on hand held devices.

An essay on, say, Prof. C.V Raman or Srinivasa Ramanujan was an arduous task then, that required flipping through books or pages of printed matter. We had to depend on teachers or parents to get more information about them. We looked up to them for inputs thus forming a different impression about their level of awareness. The same could be done with effortless ease today, thanks to anything and everything that is available online or in the Cloud.

While we had relatively fewer modes of entertainment then- the cinema, or a restaurant, park or an outing or social visits and of course much more of play- teachers and parents gave us frequent doses of knowledge by mixing them with classes or through bedtime stories and during the ‘family time’.

There was much for us to learn from them as the time spent together was qualitative in nature and openness was obvious.

We saw in many or most of our teachers, a value that could be hardly substituted by anything else and looked forward to their sessions as they taught from the heart and not from the books alone. They were assumed to be power houses of knowledge and looking back, I for sure, on a personal note, could say that without a second thought.

Value Education which is separated today, was an integral part of their lesson plan, be it Hindi or Mathematics. Their experience, passion, commitment and their roles as mentors played a significant part in this change among students, not to forget THE FREEDOM THAT PARENTS GAVE TEACHERS IN DECIDING AND EXECUTING WHATEVER WAS BEFITTING. Even the mention of parents being called to the school was enough to send chills down the spines of students.

School wasn’t just a platform for learning (nor it is even today) but was a place that students looked forward to going every day, with cheer. It was a like a get together to learn life skills along with lessons, most of which aren’t very different today either. Naturality was evident as technology or gadgets weren’t the topics of discussion, nor were Facebook or Instagram posts or likes. Friends laughed their heart out through the common things. There was much fun and play. Teachers had absolute control.

At home, both parents weren’t working. As children, we knew that money never came easily as it does today. Pocket money couldn’t be dreamt of, leave alone heard about. We saw the struggles of parents; we didn’t dare question them. We didn’t have the luxury of selection of many things, but were happy about what they chose or bought for us.  Somewhere, we had this feeling that there were pairs of eyes constantly watching and guiding us, wherever we went.

There was an invisible guideline on what we were supposed to do

Connection was real, not virtual. Lack of time was never discussed. There was better communication, more time for each other and together. An impact was created, gradually.

There was an invisible guideline on what we were supposed to do.

Times have changed, they have to. A new world driven by technology is already visible. Sadly, there is also cut throat competition that is mostly unhealthy and thus follows a mad rush to be on top, just academically, more than anything else. Money has lost value and spending for more than what is required has gone up. A majority of children has the impression that parents have enough with them. Parents too go beyond means to provide the perceptible best for their children.

On the contrary, what has to be more evident is the foundation that existed earlier, one that was strong morally and ethically, without more of monetary considerations. Learning the hard way was natural for most of the students themselves.

While a majority of the current generation of teachers and parents is definitely knowledgeable and is tech savvy, it would have this rather sensitive and difficult task of making an impact on a student community that is only just short of gadget addiction, in keeping with the times. Elders too seem to be as affected by this, as their children.

Also to be understood is that the pressure on parents and teachers today is more than what it used to be long back, in the wake of a massive shift- culturally, economically, technologically and emotionally.

Practicing what is preached, supporting and guiding children to explore themselves, nurturing their talents and leading by example could put parents back on track to be their ideal Role Models.

Teachers on the other hand need to empathize with children, lift the ordinary ones to the higher slots, create a level playing field and an equal opportunity environment for all of them to get exposed, without bias. Most importantly passion needs to be a key ingredient of their sessions than just the rush to cover the portions.

This, on paper, may not seem to be missing, though reality is in stark contrast to hearsay.

While I am not under rating the present-day teachers vis-à-vis those of yore, it would take more effort and commitment, to be followed as a Role Model because the impact has to be felt amidst challenges, most of which were absent then or were of a different manageable nature.

It is possible and would lead to a better society driven by values and positivity.

While at school and at home, we have all heard of the adage, “Where there is a will, there is a way”.

For those who put this across to children, making it a reality wouldn’t be a tough ask if backed by systematic action.

May we have more of them.

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EP SPECIALS

We need to do better in preventing diseases: Dr. Avinash Gupta

We need to do better in preventing diseases. We need to cut back on paperwork and time spent on administrative work

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“We practice the best form of medicine which is modern and scientific and evidence-based. At the same time, we should not forget our traditional medicine and adopt the good things from our ancestors. After all, Charak and Susruta are fathers of medicine and surgery,” says eminent cardiologist Avinash Gupta, in an interview with Khusboo Agrahari for Education Post. Avinash Gupta is a practicing cardiologist in Lakewood, New Jersey since 1994. He owns his own medical practice where both he and his wife, Dr. Geeta Gupta (Internist) practice

Tell us something about your successful journey as an Indian practicing cardiologist in the United States of America with more than four decades of experience?

From landing at JFK airport, NY 34 years ago to where I am today has been a long journey indeed. Hard work, determination, and single-mindedness is the key to success in America. While studying for qualifying examinations, one has to do menial jobs to survive. Then we have to do training for years to specialize and subspecialize, struggle to establish one’s practice, and get ahead in life. One has to constantly study and keep up to date and keep up the skills. There is accountability and you have to be on your toes all the time.

What do you believe to be some of the most pressing health issues today?

In my opinion, PREVENTING diseases is the single most pressing health issue. While we spend a majority of health care dollars during the last few months or years of a person’s life, we do not even spend a fraction of that while they are young, in taking care of their risk factors. I always tell my patients, I want to prevent heart attacks and strokes, not treat them when they happen.

How do you practice empathy and compassion in the workplace?

I never forget what I had to go through to get where I am today. I also always put myself in other people’s shoes. Remember to treat people the way you want to be treated.

Doctors are everyday heroes. Tell us about your skills to face the challenges both medical and personal?

Caring for the sick and elderly takes special skills. You have to be a people person. You have to be caring and compassionate.

Being the President of Bihar Jharkhand Association of North America ( BJANA) kindly tell us more about its role in shaping the Indian Society overseas?

BJANA has been serving people in the U. S. and India since 1976. The organization has been working at the grassroots in healthcare, education, disaster relief (Covid pandemic), and on various socio-economic issues. It has done exceptional work in promoting the cultural heritage of India. It is an honour and privilege to have led BJANA, especially during the pandemic. We have united our diaspora and have brought them on a single platform. We have been constantly helping each other as a family.

How do you see the US’s healthcare system given your high understanding of medical sciences as a practicing cardiologist for the last forty years? How is it different from the Indian system?

As I said earlier, there is accountability. Everyone is treated with respect and an explanation is given, all questions are answered. Almost everyone has health insurance. The government provides health insurance for those above 65, those below the poverty line, and those who are disabled or on dialysis. We provide the best cardiac care in the world although it is expensive. India is a vast country and there is a lot of disparity between health care in urban vs rural, big cities vs small towns, rich vs poor. We have to do a lot more to fill up these gaps. Mobile health clinics and telemedicine may be a way to reach remote areas. We should build the infrastructure and provide amenities to doctors who want to work in rural areas.

Covid-19 challenge in front of the world is unprecedented and historic. The entire nation was looking forward to the medical fraternity with hope. In this regard sir I would like you to share one such positive story from your experience.?

When the pandemic struck, we were at the forefront of spreading awareness, education, prevention of covid, distributed masks, sanitizers, arranged for covid testing, sent hot meals to all health care workers at local hospitals. When the government called upon us to help vaccinate the public, we have been volunteering every weekend for the last 3 months to vaccinate thousands of public. We have vowed to continue this effort till every resident in our county is vaccinated and we return to normal. The worst experience was people dying of Covid at hospitals and family members were not allowed at the bedside to say goodbye.

The young doctors have the knowledge but no experience. It is up to us, the older generation to guide and mentor them which is a huge responsibility

As a top practicing doctor what are your suggestions with a focus on healthcare quality improvement highlighting the flaws and problems in our current system and areas where we need to do better?

We need to do better in preventing diseases. We need to cut back on paperwork and time spent on administrative work. Doctors should be in charge of running health care, not bureaucrats.

What is your piece of advice to all young dynamic aspiring doctors on understanding the intricacies of the health care system?

The young doctors have the knowledge but no experience. It is up to us, the older generation to guide and mentor them which is a huge responsibility. I tell my students, “When it comes to learning an art whose end is saving of human lives, any neglect to make ourselves thorough masters of it, becomes a crime”

Medicine is still indeed very special, seeks a deeply profound and wise understanding of your fellow human beings. Could you please share some magical moments from your life when you realized being a doctor is truly a blessed profession?

Actually, this happens every day when a patient gets better and says doctor you saved my life. The challenge is not to get carried away because we are just doing our jobs. We are in a profession where unfortunately we cannot have good outcomes all the time. We have to take the good with the bad. The patients also should take some responsibility for their health.

What are your thoughts on the traditional medicine system supported by the huge volume of our religious scriptures, literature, and records of the theoretical concepts and practical skills others pass down from generation to generation through ancient teachings.?

We practice the best form of medicine which is modern and scientific and evidence-based. At the same time, we should not forget our traditional medicine and adopt the good things from them. After all, Charak and Susruta are fathers of medicine and surgery.

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EP SPECIALS

Perseverance Rover: It’s Mission Objective, Scientific Gear and Lifesource

This mission is truly a bridge between humanity’s aspirations and culmination of a long awaited dream to place the first humans on another world

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The Perseverance mission (officially known in NASA as Mars 2020) is the latest since the Curiosity rover that landed at the Gale Crater on Mars in 2013. The Perseverance rover is in a sense, an extension of Curiosity, but it’s to probe specific questions about Mars – to examine organic content on Mars to see if ancient microbial life possibly existed, to understand the climate on Mars and determine if hospitable conditions did exist in the past, and to demonstrate the artificial synthesis of oxygen using the
atmospheric carbon dioxide on Mars.

The mission got traction in India after, Dr. Swati Mohan, who was the most visible face at the Mission Control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at Pasadena, California, shared updates about the rover’s entry, descent and landing on Mars with the rest of her team and the world. The whole landing phase of the mission was viewed by at least 21 million people on YouTube and many more on their television sets. Her Indian ancestry, bought her media attention, appearing on interviews with national television
channels. She was the Guidance and Controls Operations Lead of the Perseverance mission.

The Perseverance rover weighs about 1025 kilograms and is the heaviest ever sent to Mars, with its size comparable to a Tesla Model X

Her role was to ensure the rover was properly oriented prior to the beginning of the entry, descent and landing stage of the mission. JPL, where she works, is the technology arm of NASA and is in charge of the
creation of rockets and robots including the Mars rovers, and played a key role during the Apollo missions. On 30 th July, 2020, amidst the rampaging COVID pandemic, the Atlas V rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida hurtling into space for over 201 days. On 18 th February 2021, after an intense entry and descent phase, Perseverance landing was recorded and broadcasted by NASA to the rest of the world.

Tracks from the rover’s first drive (darker marks in the foreground) and an area scoured by the Mars 2020 mission’s descent stage rockets (lighter-colored area in the middle ground). Courtesy: mars.nasa.gov/

SOME FACTS ON PERSEVERANCE:

The Perseverance rover weighs about 1025 kilograms and is the heaviest ever sent to Mars, with its size comparable to a Tesla Model X. The rover’s top speed is about 0.014 kmph with the rover covering about 100 meters per day. That’s miniscule for a robot, but the whole point is that the rover is not a car in anyways. Unlike a car, the rover uses a radioactive source to power its instruments on board and drive its wheels. The rover wasn’t built to drive long distances. It’s supposed to perform scientific analysis on its environment, including its surface and atmosphere.

SCIENTIFIC EQUIPMENT AND SYNTHESIZING OXYGEN ON THE SURFACE

Perseverance has over seven instruments – SHERLOC, MOXIE, PIXL, RIMFAX, Mastcam-Z, SuperCam and MEDA. The Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (abbreviated MOXIE) will test oxygen production capabilities on Mars, functioning like a tree – breathing in the carbon dioxide (that comprises over 96% of the Martian atmosphere) and breathe out oxygen (which is just 0.13% on Mars without artificial production). This
instrument can reduce the logistics for future humans by having them not carry a liquid oxygen propellant with them.

The MOXIE device will create oxygen gas from carbon dioxide, producing carbon monoxide as a by-product. Later this oxygen is tested for purity and then released into the Martian atmosphere.

Other instruments on board include the SuperCam, that performs imaging and analysis of the chemical composition of the soil, and looks for organic matter from a distance. The Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Experiment (RIMFAX) is a ground penetration radar that will help model the structure just below the surface. The Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL) will help to detect chemical elements on the surface using an x-ray spectrometer.

The MOXIE device will create oxygen gas from carbon dioxide, producing carbon monoxide as a by-product. Later this oxygen is tested for purity and then released into the Martian atmosphere

Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) will measure the temperature, pressure, wind speed, relative humidity and size and shape of the dust particles. The MastCam provides panoramic images of Mars. Perseverance’s most prominent feature perhaps is its extendable robotic arm, at the end of which is the “turret” that can drill into rock samples and consists of a few of the mentioned scientific instruments to perform analysis, similar to how a geologist would perform their duties on earth.

PERSEVERANCE’S HEART AND LIFE SOURCE

Perseverance rover draws its power from the MMRTG, unlike its predecessors like Spirit and Opportunity that relied on solar energy. An MMRTG, abbreviation for the Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator, utilizes radiation from nuclear decay of a plutonium-238 sample weighting 4.5 kilograms. A thermocouple will then set up a temperature-dependent voltage from this radiation to run the electronics aboard. The MMRTG provides a peak power of 110 W but then this power supply will
decrease steadily due to nuclear decay. However, the plutonium sample will last long enough and function adequately past its designed mission life span. The rover has two extra rechargeable lithium ion batteries to perform activities that require further power.

INGENUITY – A LATEST INNOVATION, AND FIRST OF CONTROLLED FLIGHT ON MARS

It’s an impressive engineering marvel that requires some talent, dedication and smart work went into this project since being announced in December 2012, at the American Geophysical Union. It isn’t just the rover that has gone in as part of project Mars 2020, but a small helicopter aboard Perseverance. The helicopter will serve as a technology demonstration for future airborne missions on Mars. The helicopter, aptly named Ingenuity, will commence flight test in April 2021. The helicopter will hover for
90 seconds and then recharge with its onboard solar panels. This will be the first time that controlled flight has ever been performed on another planetary body, that too with an extremely thin atmosphere
(having a pressure of only 0.095 psi, compared to earth’s pressure at sea level of about 14 psi). It has taken true ingenuity for the engineers to build this machine.

WHAT’S THE FUTURE AND WHAT’S EXPECTED OUT OF MARS 2020

This mission is truly a bridge between humanity’s aspirations and culmination of a long awaited dream to place the first humans on another world. Scientists and engineers will need all the data they want,
because although Mars may be a dead planet, it had an interesting history. Scientists are positive about the existence of flowing liquid water on the surface billions of years ago, and even had a stable atmosphere. But we just don’t know how it all went, and why it went. These fundamental questions
become relevant to us as humans to identify the necessary conditions needed to harbor life on other planets other than our own.

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