The idea of using digital technologies to teach students from homes was introduced to continue with education and overcome mental stress and anxiety
The number of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases surged to more than 22 million across the globe, while the number of cases in India crossed 2.9 million as of August 21, 2020.
A complete lockdown was imposed on March 24 for 21 days to curb the spread of the disease. The number of cases, however, still rose at an alarming rate, leading to the continuation of lockdown.
The ‘unlock’ phases in India began June 1 onwards. All educational institutions were closed to promote the need for social-distancing, aggravating the impact on education.
Schools and educational institutes have remained closed even after the unlock phases to ensure the safety of students, teachers and their families.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) responded to the school closures by issuing several recommendations. It called for the use of distance-learning programmes, open educational applications and platforms that schools and teachers can use to reach learners remotely and limit the disruption of education.
The idea of using digital technologies to teach students from homes was introduced to continue with education and overcome mental stress and anxiety during the lockdown.
The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a digital revolution in the higher education system through online lectures, teleconferencing, digital open books, online examination and interaction in virtual environments.
Several states and Union territories, including Jammu and Kashmir, Mizoram and West Bengal implemented daily televised lectures as the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development tied up with television service providers to allocate specific channels for this purpose.
University faculties are setting up accounts on online video-conferencing platforms from Zoom Video Communications Inc, Skype Inc and Google LLC among others to engage with students.
Some 1.37 billion students in 138 countries worldwide and 32 million students in India were affected by school and university closures, according to UNESCO.
Nearly 60.2 million school teachers and university lecturers are no longer in the classroom. School closures impact not only students, teachers, and families, but have far-reaching economic and societal consequences as well.
The impact was more severe for disadvantaged children and their families. In India, where most people still live in rural areas, almost 70 per cent of children attend government schools. Nationwide digital learning is practically impossible in such schools and comes with its opportunity costs.
Reading ability among privileged families in India (2016)
Source: ASER 2016 unit-level data
There are advantages in the increased usage of virtual classrooms, as students get plenty of time to finish their coursework, keeping both their study and job hours feasible by working from homes.
A survey by faculties from the International School of Business and Research, Bengaluru said:
When faculty started taking sessions online, they were shocked to see students’ attendance was 20 times better than regular class sessions, with almost full attendance while engaging with them virtually. The faculty feels there is not much of a difference between online and offline sessions as they can share presentations, play videos and use boards and markers as in regular classrooms.
Teaching online is better than regular sessions as one can focus on their family and mental peace. On the other hand, poor internet connectivity, power supply, lack of smartphones and other gadgets hinder educational opportunities for the students in rural areas. The Niti Aayog, in its Strategy for New India@75 report, said 55,000 villages in the country did not have mobile network coverage.
Statewise rural households with internet facility in India (2017-18)
Source: NSS education survey, 2017-18
Teachers also face hardships in adjusting themselves to digital teaching, as the concept is new to them and needs dedication and more observant attitudes.
School students between four and 12 years of age hardly own mobile phones or know how to use them. Teachers connect with them through their parents’ phones, ultimately consuming their time. Mostly, parents who work from their homes, struggle between their work and the education of their children.
An in-house survey by the University of Hyderabad found 2,500 students had issues with online teaching. Though 90 per cent of the respondents had a mobile phone, about 63 per cent of them could only access online classes infrequently or not at all.
Interestingly, among the concerns raised about online instruction, 40 per cent reported unreliable connectivity as being a major deterrent, while 30 per cent cited the cost of data. Significantly, 10 per cent reported on uncertain electricity supply as a concern.
On the other hand, while mobile phones are more or less available to all, those who own laptops or computers are very few in number.
Half the total number of learners or 826 million students across the world did not have access to a household computer and 43 per cent (706 million) had no internet at home, according to UNESCO.
Students who had access to network provisions and with full attendance in online classes received just ‘virtual education’. The maximum percentage of school and university children entering the online classes are merely learning during lectures.
Moreover, this practice of bringing classes on electronic gadgets has increased the screen time of children, where learning has become secondary. Social-distancing and virtual classes exempted children and youth from their social circles and outdoor environment.
As a result, they have become more self-indulgent, socially excluded, more involved with gadgets and indoor virtual gaming.
This may have long-term impacts on students as they try to enter job markets. These habits can also lead to serious health issues and hindrances in their natural development.
The New Education Policy, 2020 will prepare school systems to face such pandemics more efficiently and without prolonged disruption in the future and move towards building a strong public education system in the country.
COVID-19 has taught us how schooling is not equivalent to merely learning, but encompasses a social space, a social process, to learn to live, think and act for the betterment of one’s self and society as a whole.
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