In view of the recent lockdown and amidst the COVID-19 panic, one thing that seems to have caused a major concern worldwide is the entire education system coming to a standstill as schools shut down and kids are forced to stay home. The effects of the current COVID-19 pandemic and its preventive measures such as social distancing and lockdown has upended the life of students, parents, and teachers. Different countries have adopted a different approach to the current situation. The NCERT is exploring a new system of opening schools, while UGC is working out modalities for higher educational institutes, including colleges and universities for the upcoming session, the HRD Minister of India said.
This is a unique scenario where an entire generation is facing an educational backflip while education authorities work full time in the background trying to make sure that classes continue in some form or medium like online classes/e-videos etc. It is true that technology has been a major lifesaver and game-changer in the current situation but what may seem like an easy way to get kids to continue learning via technology has its own extensive downsides that not many were taking into consideration but are now slowly becoming aware of as the lockdown continues.
Time to think of a different approach?
What is ironic, according to educator and professor of Sociology at JNU, is that even at this puzzling moment, we fail to see beyond techno-managerial solutions; seldom do we go beyond what is popularly known as ‘online’ learning. The assumption is that the lockdown period should not be wasted; and students and teachers must keep their ‘normal’ activities alive, complete the ‘syllabus’ through ‘online’ learning, and get their degrees in due time. Hence, nothing, it is thought, is more important than reading the same texts, completing the same kind of assignments, and listening to the same monologue of the teachers. Use technology, work from home, and continue the ‘academic production’! He goes on to show the absurdity of this kind of thinking. “I feel this is the time for an honest and rigorous self- reflection;” he says, “this is the time to understand the deeper layers of our consciousness; and this is the time to examine where we have gone wrong. Yes, this is the time to rethink education. It doesn’t matter even if we do not complete the official syllabus; it makes no difference even if, for instance, sociology students do not write yet another standardised term paper on Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, or philosophy students miss a couple of routinised lectures on Spinoza and Descartes. What, I feel, is really important is to unlearn the old baggage of knowledge, and derive a meaning of existence in the period of existential and ontological uncertainty.”
It is not just careers, but the current generation requires skills like empathy, creativity, resilience, adaptability, collaboration, communication, and emotional intelligence. Learning in schools will have a new purpose, and it will be a major deviation from the information-focused education of today. So basically, we have not only been given a chance to rethink the entire education sector, but also the opportunity to visualize how it can evolve in tandem with our changing world. While a small percentage of the population’s thinkers contemplate how to see this as a shift in the usual way of thinking and change the system on the whole, the other side tries its best to continue the academic system as it is and continue the current curriculum by trying to hurry and get kids back to school as soon as possible or by implementing online classes. Teachers have been asked to tutor from home through various modes including SWAYAM, SWAYAM Prabha, Diksha, etc. But thinking that this is the way to go with disregard to the obvious problems in the country regarding this mode of continuing education has got many questioning the entire system and trying to think of alternatives as well as changing the system on the whole.
The disadvantages of online classes
If you remember your own childhood where your parents or guardians asked you to not sit too close to the television screen or spend too much time on the computers so as to not impair your vision, or as parents yourself, you ask your kids nowadays to not to always be on their phones staring at the screens, you know how much of an adverse effect this has on health. So imagine then what it would be like to have your kids stare at the computer screens all day in an attempt to learn from their teachers on the other side of the screen. As easy as it is made to sound that having your kids take online classes it is not really as rosy as it is made to be. It takes a toll on the kids’ mental and physical health to sit stagnant all day glued to their screens and at the same time to use their mental power to do sums, learn history, geography, grammar or mathematics, and just generally keep up with the class, especially at a time like this when each child is living a different life at home.
It is not just children who are going to be facing these problems, teachers are also being overworked right now. “It is nothing like I envisioned,” says Harisa, mother of 4 and a teacher to the 5th grade. “Initially I thought it might be better to work from the comfort of my home, but the classes are more stressful when I take them online with me staying up all night some days, just to keep up with the technological requirements and correcting notes and grading tests. I’m currently overworked and tired all the time.” So it is to be taken into consideration that it is not only the children who are being subjected to online stress but the teachers as well, who are trying their best to keep up with the situation and continue providing education to the children.
A basic prerequisite for e-learning is a smartphone with internet connectivity. In the recent article by CBSE titled ‘Lockdown – A Golden opportunity for Education’ which glorified the pandemic as an opportunity for teachers, parents and students to take education to the next level by moving to online education, describes the various ways in which educators, parents and children can make the lockdown more productive and learn via the online medium. But what seems to be painfully ignored at this time seems to be the fact that not all children have the privilege of access to technology or the internet for this to be an ideal solution for all. The 75th report of the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) for 2017-18 shows that the all India percentage of households having internet facilities stands at 23.8% with rural availability at 14.9% and the urban at 42% and the data generated by Statista (2018), only 27% of the Indian population have smartphones. So what seems to be highlighted at the moment is the gross division between the privileged class who are able to access the makeshift classes while the kids from the more rural set up who have no access to computers or internet privileges whatsoever miss out on these so called opportunities.
For most students in the marginalised sector, these schools are their only hope for education and even food. The higher rate of enrollment in the schools in these sectors are attributed to the mid-day meal scheme which now has come to a standstill causing a lot of unforeseen problems in the lives of these families regarding both the nutrition and education of kids.
Parents dealing with their own problems
Even if somehow all the children do get access to online classes, there are so many overlooked factors on whether or not this system can be implemented. One of them being that the parents who are currently working from home or going to work may not have the time to sit with their kids to make sure they are taking their classes on time or to make sure that they are in a safe space to study from as the internet is not always best place for younger (or older) kids to be left unsupervised. Younger kids who have no technical knowledge are to be helped in setting up the class and not all parents or guardians may have the time or energy even to make this happen for the kids. Even though it is true that a large amount of compromise and adjustment is required from everyone at this time, not everyone is actually handling the crisis in the same way. Many families have intrinsic problems like health issues of the elderly in the house, current unemployment and fear of the future and their own health issues to deal with not to mention all the myriad of problems brought about by the pandemic. CMIE’s data suggests that 11.9 crore people have lost employment in the two weeks of the COVID-19 lockdown. Investment in education is not going to be a priority, amongst disadvantaged households, and we might see a dip in enrolment, when and if, schools are opened. To try and make sure that their children continue learning in some way or the other cannot be fulfilled by all as everyone has their own demons to battle against at this time.
One of the possible solutions being considered by the government at this time is to reopen schools in the green zones while maintaining strict social distancing as well as to limit the number of students in a class by having them in different shifts. Even though this would still cut back on the amount of curriculum being covered, it is thought that the huge gap and the loss of an entire academic year can be cut down by a big margin via this approach. Modified seating arrangements, change in timings and further division of the class into different sections could be among the key features in schools when they re-open amid the coronavirus pandemic informed Union HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank during a live interaction with teachers last week.
The need for the government to release more funds in the field of education is being highlighted right now as the current education system alongside the public health system has been exposed in the light of the pandemic to have been grossly underfunded, as they struggle to handle the crisis in a beneficial or satisfied manner. Some states have cut down the academic fees as parents may not be able to afford fees at the moment, but this on the other side can adversely affect the teachers as well, considering the fact that they are on a low-income standard as it is. The government needs to take action in providing for the teachers as they are surely one of the backbones of the country providing education for the future generation.
A principal and an education leader in Dubai says to other leaders, to first and foremost, be open, be honest, be visible and be transparent with your staff and teams. They too are facing their own personal challenges. School leaders across the globe and locally are urged to come forward with their ideas and to share and collaborate with other leaders on their ideas which can keep the system from collapsing and provide ingenious ideas to work upon.
One promising and interesting idea suggested and being worked upon in the state of Uttar Pradesh was to use Doordarshan, All India Radio and community radio, to promote audio-based learning among students who do not have access to the internet. Delhi also suggested data packages to children of the higher secondary classes, but the question of it being misused and how to implement a way to allow the package to be used only for certain educational apps are in the talks now.
But what is evident is that even though India has a major sector devoid of access to technology and the internet, most of the current generation of kids around the world, especially the more developed countries, are defined by their use of technology. It has become an extension of their consciousness and they do not know a world without it. Even though technology has its dark side and solely depending on it is not the way to go, the future of education is not in a position to ignore the utilization of technology since it may very well be the best platform to empower learning in an age that is integrating technology as a way of life. These generations could influence the evolution of education, as they themselves are the ones majorly impacted by the pandemic and are in the best position to learn and grow from it. Covid-19 may very well be the catalyst the world needed as it seems to have uprooted an entire system, so that it may evolve to an upgraded version of its old self, where children are alongside basics, taught more important things like protecting the environment, scientific approaches to energy usage, waste management and also better health and nutrition via learning to grow their own food, how to eat healthy, as well as learning different health modalities at a young age like yoga and general health approaches. It should also include mental health emphasis with importance given to psychological approaches in view of the different psyches expressed by the young minds including children with learning disabilities and special needs etc and also on how to live and thrive in a society and community with better coping skills. Only time will tell how education evolves over time and what steps our country will take in the coming days to curb this crisis in terms of education is also yet to be seen.