As the nation-wide Lockdown 4 in India, emerging out of the corona pandemic comes to an end, schools, colleges, students, parents and teachers are struggling with different concerns. On the one hand, re-opening of schools and colleges exposes students and teachers to community spread, on the other hand, extended lock-down translates into loss of education for all students. Therefore, in order to protect our students and our country from second wave of Corona, the option of online education needs to be explored for all schools and universities in India at least for the next academic year. After the recent n announcement from the finance minister and Minister MHRD about budget allocation and focus on online education, we are hopeful that online education may become a viable option provided it is executed well.
There are concerns about reaching out to the remote corners of the country, but the investment in technology and new dedicated channels can address this. Majority households and even school going children have access to internet and laptops and therefore, in comparison to the risks of COVID-19 infection, it may be better to study online. Besides the technology and access part, online education also has several other benefits; despite the fact that it may bring a disruption to the existing model of conventional education.
Firstly, online education can help reduce inequality in the “Quality” of faculty and education available to students across different schools and colleges in India. We have a large number of universities and colleges, but not all faculty are qualified. Even with top colleges and schools, often, a vicious loop of mediocrity is formed and education quality suffers. By removing the nuisance of unnecessary overheads and administration, and by bringing the best faculty in direct contact with the students through online learning can do wonders for motivation of both, the faculty and student.
Secondly, access to online classes and digital media will provide room to students to develop self-motivation and become independent. After all, conventional teaching is often criticized with spoon – feeding and over emphasis on exams and internal tests and assessments. This reduces the creativity in students and makes them dependent on marks, and placements that are related to exam results.
Thirdly, online teaching will save the time to travel as well as the negative sides of gossip and bullying from peers, both for students and faculty, a phenomenon which is so common these days unfortunately.
Fourthly, access to the best digital content for all, as well as the room for creativity and innovation will help our future citizens to think, analyze and get clarity about what is right and wrong for themselves, for society as well as future of our nation. Faculty will get more time to do research, as administrative work will get reduced. Currently, administration and discipline has taken a priority over academics and research. Online education will give prominence to the genuine teachers and researchers.
Fifth, online classes are the best solution to protect our children from corona infection and also ensure continuity of education at least until the pandemic threats exist. Parents will not worry as their kids can study safely from home. Teachers can also teach from home and give more time to self study and research.
Sixth, traffic and congestion on roads will be less if more than 100 million school students do not physically go to school and instead, study from home, and will help reduce pollution and save our environment.
Seventh, kids are smart in learning new technology and will enjoy online education. Students will not need to carry heavy school bags to school and no crowd in buses and rickshaws. Students will be forced to learn to study by themselves at home through text books and through online classes.
As our students become more independent, they will carry these values as they grow old to be more responsible citizens, will have more time to pursue their passion, and may create their own start-ups, thus help towards making of an Atma-Nirbhar Bharat.
(Dr Indu Rao, Professor and Director-ASC, VIT University, Vellore)