With the forced transition from physical classrooms to e-learning, it will bring in a plethora of challenges in the post pandemic world
The COVID-19 pandemic, apart from doing multitudes of damage, has sure sparked a major realization that nothing is going to be the same as before. It has broken our decades-old perspectives of ‘normal’ in most aspects of our lives.
In short, the pandemic has deconstructed every traditional working methodology and has forced digital adoption across every walk. One of the largest, pandemic infused disruptions was seen in the education system. Parents, teachers and students are now all part of a transition that marks an end to almost a century-old schooling system. Starting from the changes enforced on the teaching methods to conducting academic activities, nearly every part of the education system has had to evolve dramatically in the last few months.
However, with the forced transition from physical classrooms to e-learning, it will bring in a plethora of challenges in the post pandemic world. But before we move to the challenges facing the sector in the near future, it might be pertinent to understand the impact the pandemic has had on education in India.
COVID-19 Impact on Education
Image source- UNESCO and WEF
As schools were forced to shut down (like all other congregation points), education had to rely on other modes of delivery, primarily led by digital. However, this led to a series of problems in a country that has just been on a growth curve of digital adoption. The other aspect that played a part was, although adoption of digital had incrementally grown in the last four years, beyond India 1, it was primarily limited to WhatsApp, Facebook, YouTube and TikTok. The more important factor at play was the reliability and coverage of the existing Internet networks. All this led to a series of access, adoption, effectiveness and collaboration challenges that are fundamental to education. A few alarming statistics are highlighted below:
More than 40 per cent of government school students in Delhi couldn’t attend online classes due to network inaccessibility or economic constraints.
According to UNESCO, approximately 0.32 billion students in India have been affected by school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic (UNESCO 2020). Of these, almost 84 per cent reside in rural areas while 70 per cent attend government schools.
Factors affecting the evolution of the education system in the post pandemic world
As we move into the post pandemic world, following are a few critical challenges that are going to stare this sector in its wake.
Digital learning is a great tool, but it does carry a grave risk of bringing a class divide in education based on access to technology and digital connectivity. Education is a fundamental right of children across all economic and social strata and geographies. However, digital education carries a grave risk of bringing a class divide based on access to technology and to reliable and affordable data, which remains out of reach for millions.
Teachers and teacher education has always been a challenge in India. Now, the quality of education will also be influenced by the teacher’s ability to adopt to these new tools of imparting education in an effective manner.
Most of the existing edtech platforms are geared towards the English-speaking diaspora, with most of the quality educational content still limited to English. Lack of quality content in regional dialects will limit self-learning opportunities for students, beyond the school led education.
The emotional/psychological aspect of education isn’t spoken about enough in the country. With education being a formative process in the development of a child, schools also foster collaboration, teamwork, peers, etc. The lack of this in the digital world continues to be a growing concern.
As of 2015, the average dropout rate across secondary schools in India was 17.06 per cent with higher numbers for rural areas (NUEPA 2016). Past evidence suggests that short term disruptions in schooling often lead to permanent dropouts among the poor (Reddy and Sinha 2010). The worry now is, how many will continue to drop off during COVID and whether these students will ever adopt education in the post pandemic world
Does this mean that the outlook on education in the country is gloomy and all is lost? Of course not. Every disruption, in its wake, brings an equivalently large opportunity to change the world for the better. And we are at such an inflection point in education. But, to solve a problem as large as this, all stakeholders across the ecosystem need to collaborate to ensure that we can emerge out of this pandemic with a more robust education system. Some of the key areas of work are:
Government initiatives and government reforms need to be made quickly. The government has set precedents for this in the last few months. Several Indian states including Mizoram, West Bengal and Kashmir have implemented daily televised lectures as the human resource development (education) ministry tied up with television service providers to allocate specific channels for this purpose.
Digital infrastructure coverage across India 2 and India 3 needs to be improved and the existing infrastructure needs to be scaled up for capacity. Alternative approaches of digital access need to be reimagined, including sustainable public Wi-Fi models for the population at large. Disruptive technology platforms need to be created to cater to remote and rural areas, where reliable connectivity will continue to be a challenge.
Digital and interactive content penetration needs to improve, with a focus on regional content. Innovative pricing models need to be worked out in collaboration with schools and the government. EdTech platforms and content creators need to collaborate with teachers and educators to work on handholding students through the adoption of digital platforms and enhancing digital learning techniques.
Digital platforms need to evolve to cater to India 2 and India 3, from a user experience and types of devices on these Apps are accessed. Voice navigation within apps becomes a critical focus beyond the traditional UI/UX, along with translation and transliteration of the interface.
It is now up to the new-age entrepreneurs to work in collaboration with the government to ensure that the pandemic doesn’t impact the growth curve of our future generation.