By Amit Shrivastava
Virtual education has changed the dynamics of conventional learning – from students being in control of their learning to upskilling of teachers and bridging the digital divide.
Online education was considered one of the lowest priorities when it came to revolutionising our education system. Even though online courses for higher education – from learning new languages to pursuing professional degrees and upskilling to keep up with the latest developments in the tech sector – have found favour with the young generation of learners, it was far from being considered a mainstream alternative to classroom learning.
Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, and with it a blanket lockdown across the country. Suddenly educational institutions across the board – be it the K-12 segment, colleges or universities – were forced to go online overnight. The other alternative was suspending classes indefinitely.
We are six months into this lockdown and a majority of educational institutions in the country have sustained virtual education for at least four. Once the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us, classroom learning may come back into focus. Even so, this forced nudge toward embracing online learning is bound to impact the learning lifecycle in the long-term.
Here are some of the changes we can expect to see:
Students taking charge of their learning journey
Today, we have more than 40 million students in the education system, who spend over $40 billion on sourcing the right guidance and content to keep up with their higher education. Yet, 80 per cent still struggle to secure decent grades, which, in turn, impacts their employability. That speaks volumes about the health of the education system. Going online has given students – particularly in higher education – a chance to take charge of their learning journeys.
Apart from attending virtual classes, they can access digital platforms designed to offer curated quality content to support their learning behaviour and aptitude. With resources such as ebooks, notes, videos, tutorials available at one place, accessible at the click of a button and highly affordable, ed tech gives them the option to look beyond textbook learning. This enables them to enhance their knowledge in right earnest instead of processing information through rote learning.
Upskilling of teachers
Faculty members across the educational system also found themselves in a unique position with this transition to virtual learning. They had to learn how to use the online medium effectively. This involved getting acquainted with the interface of their institution’s chosen application and learning to use the different options and controls to be able to regulate class dynamics and disseminate knowledge successfully.
For many who are not particularly tech-savvy gaining control of a virtual classroom with just a few hours of formal training is expected to have been a Herculean challenge. Going forward, upskilling to teachers through workshops aimed at preparing them for such an eventuality in the future is another key change we are likely to see.
Room for innovations
This pandemic could well prove to be the catalyst that can break down legacy educational systems that still rely on outdated classrooms and lecture-based models of teaching.
We have already seen innovations such as TV broadcasts of educational content being tapped into in India to make sure virtual learning reaches even those segments that do not have access to the internet, smartphones and computers.
Similar, out-of-the-box solutions have been implemented in many other developing or underdeveloped countries to counter school closure. The forced shift to virtual learning has created room for innovations tapping into live broadcasts, virtual reality and influencer experiences to make elearning as seamless as possible.
In the future, we can expect to see tech innovations paving way for effective tools and solutions that can sustain remote learning journeys for the long haul.
Unprecedented public-private partnership
To facilitate virtual learning for students, stakeholders from diverse fields – governments, educational institutes, publishers, telecom operators and technology providers – formed unexpected coalitions with a single-minded goal of providing a sustainable solution to this indefinite crisis.
This could well become a prevalent trend governing the future of education not just in India but countries across the globe.
The result would be an unprecedented focus on a public-private partnership to drive innovation in the educational sector. This means the initiative to transform the way we teach our future generations will go beyond myopic social projects backed only by governments or non-profits. From relatively isolated endeavours we could more toward large-scale initiatives for a common goal.
Bridging the digital divide
One of the most crucial cornerstones of virtual learning is the quality of digital access.
Throughout this pandemic, we have all seen and heard stories that bring out the divide between the haves and have-nots. A father selling his cattle so that his children can study. A child climbing a cliff every day for better network connectivity.
A young girl fighting snatchers because she could not afford to lose the smartphone her father had taken great pains to buy for her online classes.
Despite being the second-largest online market in the world, the internet penetration in India still stands at 50 per cent. That means half of our population still does not have the means to become a part of the virtual learning journey. Given the current government’s thrust for digitisation, one could expect a bigger push to decreased costs and promote quality of access across socio-economic strata in the future. Without it, the online learning lifecycles will only exacerbate our already glaring societal divide.
The bottom line
Above all else, this pandemic has driven home the criticality of making our education system resilient. A resilience that equips it to withstand future threats – be it pandemics, violence, climate change – coupled with a transformation that shift focus to equipping our upcoming generations with life skills and capabilities to endure these threats and emerge stronger. Keeping up with the rapidly changing tech world is an integral part of that process.
Docente - Investigadora Educativa.
Doctora en Cs. de la Educación, Magíster en Desarrollo Curricular y Licenciada en Relaciones Industriales.