Updated: Jul 5
Author: Rushika Rabha
Campus Law Centre, Delhi University
The outbreak of a pandemic brings problems that are sometimes as sinister if not more so as the disease itself. Coronavirus has affected the functioning of many sectors across the globe, one of them is the educational sector. According to UNESCO monitoring as of 7th June 2020, nationwide closures and local closures have affected 98.5 percent of the world’s student population across 172 countries. The normal functioning of educational institutions across India has been brought to a halt to stop the spread of this disease due to which institutions have been forced to find alternative ways to conduct classes. The educational sector has been facing many setbacks while taking education from offline to online mode. Such setbacks are a consequence of the digital divide that exists in India.
PROBLEMS FACED BY EDUCATION SECTOR
IIT Bombay recently announced that it is taking the next semester completely online. They have also set up a donation fund to help the economically weaker students attend classes online. Other IITs across the country are most likely going to follow suit. In Delhi University, Open Book Examinations are supposed to be held online. Many students as well as teachers are against this decision as not all students have laptops to access online resources and many don’t have books with them. For students living in remote and rural areas access to resources available on the internet will be much more difficult than students residing in urban areas. One of the gravest concerns while using e-learning as a method of teaching is that access to the internet needed to take classes online is not available to many Indian students. According to the National Sample Survey data as a part of the survey on Education in 2014, only 27% of households in India have access to the internet. This data does not necessarily mean that the Internet is available from their own devices at home. Furthermore, there is a huge divide in access to the internet in urban areas and rural areas. Online platforms for imparting education have not been widely used across the country’s education institutions before the outbreak of the coronavirus, hence with the sudden lockdown, there wasn’t ample time to prepare for e-learning. While private schools are in a better position to use online resources to conduct classes, for government schools this has not been easy, to say the least. An initiative called ‘PM E-Vidya' has been launched by the government to proliferate digital education by providing multi-mode access to digital/online education. Under this programme, there are DTH channels dedicated to providing education to children from class 1 to 12 and the top 100 Universities of the country will be permitted to start online courses from May 30th. The ‘Swayam Prabha DTH channels’ have been started to make education accessible to children who do not have an internet connection. The most unfortunate consequence of this inequality in accessing online classes was the suicide of a nine-year-old girl from Malappuram, Kerala, and a sixteen-year-old boy from Assam’s Chirang district. Centre needs to address this digital divide urgently and work towards bringing educational technology revolution, as the integration of technology and education is needed for the education sector to function smoothly Teachers who have had no training in using e-resources to teach are also facing difficulties while teaching online. Since physical written examinations are not taking place any time soon and face to face teaching is no longer possible teachers have to adopt new methods of teachings as well as alternative ways to access and mark students. The government’s DIKSHA platform, which is made to serve as a national digital infrastructure for teachers, will help teachers train themselves and also connect them to the teaching community. In a country like India where online learning was not used predominantly across the country, there is a fear that this sudden shift from classroom learning to online learning will turn students into passive learners. The short attention span of students will affect their engagement and interest in online classes. Students in the final year and students who were going to sit for entrances have been adversely affected due to changes in the examination dates. The anxiety and uncertainty that these students are facing cannot be negated. In addition to the changes in examination cycles, students who were supposed to graduate and get jobs are now facing issues in employment too. The pandemic has led to layoffs in many companies and graduates are fearing that their job offers may be retracted. According to the data available on the unemployment rate from the Centre for Monitoring India’s Economy had reached 8.75% in March to 23.48% in May. As of the 26th of June,2020 the unemployment rate is 12.4%. Every year many Indian students go abroad to countries like the USA, UK, Australia, Germany, and China to pursue higher education. However, the pandemic has led to a complete pause in a student’s life as students are barred from leaving this country. If such a situation continues to persist then a decline in demand for higher education abroad is expected.
Despite the overwhelmingly problematic issues faced by the education sector in India during these harsh times, there have been some positive developments. In contrast to physical classrooms, E-learning platforms are more convenient and cost-effective in conducting classes and webinars. There have been more opportunities for collaborative work among educators now, as people from across the globe can come together to impart education with few costs. Collaborative work can also lead to improved learning resources and material. The course designers of universities must actively work with their IT department so that they can tailor the course in a way that it would be supported by online platforms. Webinars, seminars, and conferences are being conducted online as teleconferencing has emerged as the solution to tackle the problem of travel restrictions. Massive open online courses are also being provided by various platforms to learn and increase one’s knowledge.
As the course of learning has been suddenly disrupted by a disease that does not seem to be stopping anytime soon, our education sector must undergo a technological reform not just for now but for the future as well. The new opportunities have been opened by e-learning platforms, such opportunities are used by universities and schools across India to create a curriculum that is innovative. Online courses and programs have helped students continue their learning even during these turbulent times. However, the burning issue of unequal access to technology to avail the fruits of such technological reform in education cannot be ignored. The government must study the issues faced by people who do not have the privilege of getting a smartphone or a laptop and use its resources to provide students with a mechanism to access e-learning. The Coronavirus pandemic may end in the near future but the impact it has had on the education sector and the changes that have been brought due to it will be a reminder of how adversity brought about a new revolution in learning.