In the midst of the Covid19 crisis, perhaps it is time for India to recognise online and distance education as a worthy lifeline and must no more remain an inferior cousin of regular courses
While nation after nation has been brought down to their knees by an invisible and virulent enemy called COVID-19, like many others, India too has been striving to coalesce and face the crisis in every way possible.
To combat the situation and for making sure that the country is not pushed back by 21 years or so, just like other sectors,India’s education sector too has been battling its way forward improvising through ways and means to bridge the physical divide through virtual pooling of teachers and students, thereby ensuring that schooling does not come to a standstill even while social distancing norms are maintained.
What should Parents do?
For long, I have always been a vocal proponent of making online education a norm than an exception. Incidentally, when the lockdown started and schools were shut down, during some of my television appearances on debates surrounding the lockdown,I had two bit of advice, one each for the parents of school-going children and the other for the schools.
For parents, many of whom have been grappling with the challenge of keeping the children confined within the four walls of the house for 24/7 for weeks even while managing their office work from home, I have often suggested that it is the perfect time to impart some of the most profound life-skills to their kids. It includes things which are critical but often don’t become part of conventional schooling.
The Essential List..
The list of life-skills teaching would invariably would always include lessons on importance of hygiene factors, cleanliness, learning recipes, and the importance of rationing, so that one can live with bare minimum ration for long,basic cooking skills, the importance of washing vegetables as well aslearning basicyoga and meditation. Teaching the basics of managing the home, and keeping one physically and mentally fit are great management skills, which if imbibed in the best way possible, most genuinely prepare young minds for major challenges they would have to face later in their lives. Likewise, giving challenges of home management as homework is also a great way of imbibing them with team work skills.
From the psychological perspective as well, giving tasks of home management as homework would also help in productively keep young minds engaged in activities, which would also help them in comprehending the enormity of efforts their parents put in to transform the house into a cozy and comfortable home. These learnings have immense value later on in their lives.
Schools/ Institutes going the virtual way..
From the perspective of schools and educational institutes, this is also a great opportunity in strengthening their online or virtual teaching infrastructure which may open up a whole host of opportunities for Indian enterprises in the realm of e-learning whose contours may not be limited to India only.
The Lessons from the Past: SARS Outbreak & Digitisation Drive
Previously, when the deadly SARS epidemic broke out around 2002-03, reports indicate that many of the affected countries back then did experience surge in demand for online education due to similar travel restrictions and social distancing norms, just like the present times, were imposed in affected countries
In Australia, for example, numerous educational institutions put their best efforts to address their students who got stranded elsewhere and delivered their courses by boosting online capacities successfully. China too, worked immensely on its fibre-optic broadband infrastructure to make online imparting of classes a seamless exercise. This resulted in a positive outcome through thriving enrolments in higher education and a flourishingnew industry of technology based education.
The Indian Saga
Even though online education heralded its arrival in India long time back, still its acceptance did not reach the level where it could compete and replace conventional classroom coaching.
However, now in the midst of an unprecedented lockdown, online medium of pedagogy has come up as a godsend opportunity for not just schools to continue with their daily classes, but is also a great avenue of up-skilling for elders and professionals while they are facing a lockdown period. The Digital India project has now started showing results.
Online as an Effective Tool for Literacy and Employability.
In many ways the online education system may eventually end up in making Indians more skilled since this lockdown phase can be utilised by many for up-skilling themselves. With the help of e-learning, many citizens have been able to effectively engage in earning a livelihood.
Time to Give Online Education its Due Recognition?
It is in this context that the time has come for India to pass laws to recognise distance education and online pedagogy at par with conventional classroom based regular courses. For long online and distance education have often been treated as distant and inferior cousins of regular courses. This has to change. The lockdown phase is showing important it online courses. The government should ideally work to strengthen the regulatory structure of online education.
Strengthening of Network Connectivity: A Must
Also it is equally important to invest more on network connectivity. One cannot deny that the government has been investing considerably on fibre optic networks but ideally it has to be done onthe same scale and given same importance as an infrastructure as national highway constructions. Both national highways and network highways are critical to India’s future.
Although there is no second thought that the idea of a better connected country will bear its own sweet fruits, it will also boost India’s Low Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in higher education. However the network infrastructure has to be built with embedded resilience and redundant capacity to withstand challenges of disruptions in the atmospheric condition like monsoon or storms or physical war situations,, grid fluctuations, or other possible lockdown phases where electricity and internet shut down may become a norm. It has to have the capacity to withstand it all and only then it would emerge as a viable first option
But…Beware of Risk Factors !
However, one also has to be cautious. The world of online is not often a safe place with dangers of hackers and possibility of identity theft often lurking around the corner. One has to be extremely cautious while downloading any particular application (commonly known as apps) and do several checks to verify their sources.
In the recent past, most schools and other institutions started using different kinds ofvideo chat platform. In certain cases, they also started using newer video chats apps that has started hitting the market.However, in many cases it has been found that some of the apps are not worth installing since there have been instances of data and identity theft. The reason being that due to the pandemic when the dependence on video chatting or conferencing apps have gone up manifold, numerous fake and dubious apps are also flooding the market.
Therefore it is imperative for the government and its enforcement agencies to bring out proper guidelines and regular updates on which applications are genuine and which are suspicious since possibilities of online fraud may also go up during this lockdown period during increasing dependence on online activities by citizens.
Last but not the least, with popularity of internet and broadband comes the importance of maintaining online hygiene and make sure that content is not misused by anyone. With increased usage of e-portals or applications, there are rising possibilities of misuse of photographs of children and adults in pornographic websites. In India,as per Indian Child Protection Fund or ICPF, sadly, demand for child pornography content has spiked by 95% during the current lockdown period. One thus has to be cautious and educate children and young citizens on nuances of checks and balances while delving into the networked world.
Every coin has two sides and every aspect does too. Everything is the mixture of black and white. We will evidence some benefits and have to be on our guard to eradicate the negativities of web world.
(JoyitaPal is a New Delhi based Education Consultant& Teacher)