Can Online Education revolutionize the Education System?
(By: Sagar Gupta)
The recent covid-19 outbreak has disrupted the academic year, discontinued many classes and examinations across the country. Acknowledging to such unforeseen circumstances many schools and education institutions have moved classes online causing students to attend lectures by gadgets and other electronic devices. It is enabled through the use of video-sharing platforms commonly and dominantly Zoom, Web-Cisco and similar video sharing platforms.
Most education systems have adopted these online classes as their permanent system because many of them are unsure about the end of the pandemic.
With the rampant growth of online classes, there has been a steep growth in this pandemic learning curve also posing the question how the future of education can be revolutionized in the face of unprecedented challenges like the current one. The schooling systems across the country have adopted the online education system as where is possible or otherwise put on a hold. Though it can be safely said that this pandemic has given away to the authorities to re- imagine higher education.
The immediate objective of online education seems to be a solution to circumvent the current challenge of educating millions of students across the country and not risking their future. As it is uncertain to determine when the schools will be opened due to rising cases across the country with cities like Maharashtra Delhi coming up in 3rd and 1st rank in active covid-19 cases as per the recent reports, the online education is the only available option for the future of the youth.
The farsighted objective of this new system of education is the democratising knowledge and wide distribution of learning opportunity. In ancient times it was usually the son of a saint or Brahman educated in shastras or wisdom from the Vedas leaving rest of segment of the population uneducated. It was a phenomenon which could be described for the lack of better term as a monarchy to education. Current democratisation has led to the rise in meritocracy and decline in autocracy in regard to access education. Now a person who hails from a background with an absence of formal education isn’t bound in the rigid rules of the society to receive formal education but now has the option to choose what he wishes to study. It has also been guaranteed by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution by Supreme Court in Mohini Jain versus State of Karnataka (1992) 3 SSC 666.Vocational courses were already being offered pre- pandemic by websites such as Udemy, Coursera and Shaw Academy. These websites provide an array of skills to the learner and provide them with an edge in the employment market. The
lectures are usually available online in public and open websites usually at nominal charges or entirely at a free cost which greatly benefits the economically weaker section of the society.
Organizations of higher education have given heterogeneous response to this pandemic situation and embraced online schooling with mixed enthusiasm as many educationists and policymakers advise caution that online education will not live up to its potential.
Educational tools and schemes
The Indian education system is divided into three categories elementary education ranging from pre-primary to upper primary and secondary education from class 9th 2 class 12 and higher education which is after 12th and till the person chooses to study. Where the elementary education has been deemed as compulsory education for children in India it is this section which has received greater attention from the policymakers.
Massive Open Online Course or MOOC encouraged by Ministry of Human Resource Department is an online course aimed at unlimited participation and open access with the use of the internet. Traditional course materials, such as filmed lectures, readings, and problem sets are included in addition to many new features like interactive courses with user forums or social media discussions to support community interactions among students, professors, and teaching assistants (TAs), as well as immediate feedback to quick quizzes and assignments. MOOCs are a recent and widely researched development in distance education. The ministry has encouraged MOOC through NPTEL and SWAYAM platforms. It is to be noted that the quality and quantity of these platforms have to be enhanced in terms of the available courses and the content being taught.SWAYAM is a Hindi acronym that stands for “Study Webs of Active- Learning for Young Aspiring Minds” is an Indian Massive open online course (MOOC) platform.SWAYAM has been developed cooperatively by MHRD and AICTE (All India Council for Technical Education) with the help of Microsoft and is equipped for facilitating 2,000 courses.
The platform offers free access to everyone and hosts courses from class 9 till post-graduation. NPTEL is the official coordinator for engineering courses.
Impact of online classes upon education
It cannot be disputed that the online system has been a boon to providing education. In online schools, most schools are depending not only on screens but a blended approach including various activities for example in many schools at preschool level children are asked to do painting or crafting or making simple recipes like salad at home including yoga sessions conducted by the schools. It has to be noted that the absence of such interference will hamper child brain development which happens in the early years and every day. Many Indian teachers view online instruction with caution as the screen time has increased and is believed to impede the progress of children. Therefore the Maharashtra government has banned online classes
from pre-primary to class 2nd, also the Karnataka and MP government has banned the classes till class 5th but it is to be noted that the increased screen time associated with online classes was already present before the online classes started as children usually spend equal amounts of time behind the screen watching various shows or simply interacting with smartphones.
Presently, these online platforms are to be seen as stop-gap variants helping us get by under the lockdown situation and not as a complete substitution of schooling, it is a compliment to classroom lectures which can provide students with study materials at their own convenience and by sources for a better understanding of the curriculum being taught. While studying it is important for students to use the concept of time utilisation and discreetly taking up on knowledge outside the online classes as a plethora of information exists on the internet and it is possible to cause analysis paralysis by the constant influx of wide spectrum of information.
Filtration of information by picking up important topics is the key to optimum utilisation of online education. Students during the online classes don’t have peers and parents are busy to supervise them causing the burden to study consistently to fall solely upon students themselves. Engagement in critical dialogue and development of ideas and insights are ways teachers birth innovation and creativity in children’s mind. The health issues of the children cannot be ignored as with the increase screen time the strain on children’s eyes has become imminent and vision problems may arise, also it has been noted that with increase screen time by sitting behind desktop results into lethargy and affects the thinking skills of students.
MOOC is a top-down teacher to student directionality where the students become the consumer and teacher the seller of the information. Here thoughtful discussions get discouraged. It is important to remember that teaching and learning skills are developed by actively participating in it rather than passively consuming it. With the absence of schools, the only teacher can provide the information and students play the intellectual midwife consuming it. Moving to MOOC robs the young teachers and student of essential skills.
The elephant in the room is the electronic infrastructure or the lack of it. It is important to realise that across India there is not enough digital technology in the hands of the citizens and it is commonly seen that a middle class earning household would not have enough devices to make optimum use of online schooling. To cite an illustration if there is one laptop in any household the work from home parents would have to adjust according to the online schedule of the student’s school which can sometimes extend to 6 and 7 hours of regular classes leaving productivity of parents at minimal.
Among the worker class of the society, there may not be a computer system to properly felicitate the online schooling although there are smartphones present in major households across the country the software needed that is the network coverage and even the availability of Internet service providers is an issue. There are times when students at remote locations are
unable to take classes or often have to travel to Wi-Fi hotspots like railway stations, bus stations or government offices to take an online class.
In addition to that, the poor network coverage as witnessed by call drops makes many students miss classes due to frequent network issues. Many broadband providers do not give the promised bandwidth speed to customers, therefore, making it an issue to deal with. There is a huge digital divide according to bandwidth and reliable connectivity and there is a want of required combination of hardware and electrical connectivity.
The response of diverse institution for higher education has reflected upon differences between rural and urban infrastructure, variable quality of staff and diverse subjects which are not taught. Taking higher education online is similar to taking up sports such as cricket, football, boxing online. The lack of practical exposure has serious long-term effects including the impact on academic research as there is a need for close personal interaction between the researchers.
In the face of the pandemic, it is better to give priority to opening schools for the marginalized section of society and children of migrant workers as they might not have access to required technology. Schools can come up with the system of reopening schools and resuming classes not up to the full strength but inviting half of the students alternatively in a week ensuring the norms of social distancing. While the long-term solution includes equipping children with better gadgets and fixing the problem of network coverages and imposing a penalty upon for their failed promises of delivering the desired bandwidth speed. With the connectivity of roads to remote locations across the country, it has now become emergent to connect these locations to the ‘highway of the digital world’. With the above problems fixed, there is a chance to revolutionize and re-imagine the education system as we know it.