Education in Covid 19 scenario - Challenges and opportunities
We are passing through a very tough and unpredictable phase in our life. COVID 19 has changed substantially, the way we live. Many newly emerged burning issues stare at us. In "live with COVID" era, many alternatives will be forced to develop to substitute the old style of functioning of man-machine and knowledge delivery. Field of education too cannot insulate itself from such alternatives and drastic changes are taking place in the educational field too at a rapid pace. The year 1985 heralded the digitalizing of education in India by the central government. DIGITAL INDIA projects have been supporting education in a big way. Though being the most literate state and the harbinger of many changes in education, KERALA is yet to take sufficient initiatives in this field.
Every challenge opens up a new opportunity! Higher education has many possibilities and challenges during the “keep social distance” period. India is one of the largest nations with many geographical variations which makes the learning process a difficult proposition in this period. But online classes using various platforms offer big opportunity to reach out to students in remote locations. Virtual classrooms have already become a popular reality. But online education has its own limitations too. The main hindrance is the DIGITAL DIVIDE due to the non-availability of high-speed internet in rural and remote areas. The inclusive educational system cannot function keeping the underprivileged out of this exercise. The second issue is the financial backwardness of the students. A large section of the society still cannot afford to buy good quality smartphone or laptop which is a necessity for the online educational system. More and more people have become jobless which increases the gravity of this problem.
Moreover, there is a section of the society which hesitates to upgrade themselves to digital platforms.
Online education will be successful only if it reaches every student. For this, the aforesaid issues have to be tackled. The internet infrastructure in the country needs to be leapfrogged first. Penetration of the communication network to rural interiors must get paramount importance. This task can be executed by governments only since the spectrum and infrastructure are regulated by them. Financial backwardness can be addressed by both government and social organizations. Colleges and universities too can support students in a big way.
Let us glide through information about the existing digital platforms and software used for digital education. This would enable us to face the challenges of digital education better.
Conferencing apps like Google Meet, Google Classroom, Zoom and Webex are the popular apps used for conducting interactive classes. Though very popular, these systems need to handle video content they require high bandwidth for smooth flow of classes.
Online radio is one novel way of one-way communication. Many channels already webcasting popular classes on various subjects. This is one of the cheapest ways of online classes. The drawback is that this medium does not have video contents.
TERRESTRIAL RADIO CHANNELS
All India Radio is broadcasting syllabus based educational contents daily in its VIDHYABHYASA RANGAM program. Governments and universities can utilize this very effectively. Almost all state governments and the central government are already utilizing the terrestrial radio. Advantage of the radio is, the service of a subject expert can be utilized by a large audience with a very low per capita cost. Private commercial radio channels can also be utilized for this purpose if government bring out such a policy.
Television channels can reach out to students in a better way since they can telecast video, multimedia contents and audio simultaneously. For example, PADASHAALA, an exam-based program recently telecast in Doordarshan Thiruvananthapuram was a big hit and was viewed by a large number of students who are about to attend public exams. Unlike satellite channels, DD has a footprint over 85 % geographical area of India and can be viewed with no extra cost. TV channels especially Doordarshan play a vital role in spreading distance education. Doordarshan in collaboration with government of Bihar started a programme named MERA DOORDARSHAN MERA VIDHYALAY. This programme is a big hit in a state where education facilities in the rural areas are very less. These types of programmes allows the underprivileged people to access digital learning. 75 lakh students of Bihar are participating in their classes through this programme. An app named UNNAYAN is also provided as a one-stop solution for preparation for Bihar board examinations.
Digital learning and teaching framework were introduced in India in 1985 with the establishment of IGNOU by then PM Sri Rajiv Gandhi who spearheaded the digital revolution in India. Since then, various educational and scientific organizations under the Government of India initiated the establishment of digital learning platforms. Some important programs are detailed below.
This is a project by the Ministry of human resources development (MHRD), Government of India to empower teachers in the digital environment. This is a digital infrastructure for knowledge sharing. It conducts various courses for teachers for their systematic progression in their noble profession. Teaching aids viz. concept videos, lessons, plans etc. can be accessed from DIKSHA and teachers can easily upload educational resources created by them, for the use of others.
NATIONAL REPOSITORY OF OPEN EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES (NROER)
NROER was established in 2013 by MHRD and developed by NCERT. This is also an open resource platform for digital resources for class 1 to 12. Video audio document and interactive contents are available online
NATIONAL INITIATIVE FOR SCHOOL HEADS AND TEACHERS HOLISTIC ADVANCEMENT (NESTA)
This is an effective programme to train the Heads of the schools, resource persons and teachers at the elementary school level. This is a capacity-building programme
SWAYAM is a programme initiated by the Government of India aimed at offering everyone, easy access to high-quality digital aides and resources. Premier government organizations host this programme. Subject-specific courses conducted by SWAYAM are available free of cost to the learners. School education under SWAYAM is managed by NIOS and NCERT. Out of the school education managed by IGNOU and NITTTR. Undergraduate education supported by NPTEL, AICTE, CEC, IIM Bangalore. Postgraduate education supported by NPTEL.AICTE, IIM Bangalore and UGC.
UNIVERSITY GRANTS COMMISSION (UGC)
UGC has started promoting online courses by higher educational institutions under UGC regulations of 2012. The distance education council which was the erstwhile regulator of distance education has been dissolved and UGC has taken over the regulatory functions. Distance education bureau of UGC is managing these programmes. Various universities and SCERTs are also supporting digital education in all possible ways.
This is a group of satellite channels in DTH using GSAT 15 satellite. At present, there are 32 channels aimed at secondary, senior secondary, undergraduate and postgraduate education. Recently government of India under COVID 19 package declared that 12 SWAYAM PRABHA channels to promote digital learning for classes 1 to 12. I.e., one channel each dedicated to one class.
One can access a large volume of digital resources from YouTube and other social media platforms. YouTube is the largest source of digital learning materials. Many institutes are conducting classes using YouTube which can be accessed by learners round the clock.
Kerala has also gone the digital learning way through the Victers channel but it is not sufficient. More digital platforms ought to be brought to meet the requirements. In order to provide true internet to 20 Lakh BPL families, Kerala government is going to launch K FON project through KSEB. This project is nearing completion and likely to be launched by the year-end. This will remove the main hurdle in online education in Kerala. K FON (KERELA FIBER OPTIC NETWORK) will be a leap forward in popularizing online education. Reports say 26% of total student community has no proper internet access. The percentage is much higher in backward districts. A survey says that more than 2 lakh students in Kerala have no access to online classes. Governments and LSGs are planning to provide much- needed support to all. Trial classes through Victors channel are already making waves.
Many other initiatives under digital India programmes are in the pipeline. To make digital education effective, the teachers must be equipped with good delivery models. The problems in this area are that students are way ahead in understanding digital environment than sizable number of teachers. Teacher community as a whole is acquiring skills fast but there is a minority who still hesitated to venture into the digital platforms. The alacrity of the teaching community in acquiring skills in this field would determine how soon the knowledge delivery through digital platforms start yielding good results.
Many possibilities and opportunities would be visible once online learning becomes the order of the day.
1. There will be a huge demand for graphical, ppt. & video resources for present online classes. Institutions and individuals can create such materials. Educational organizations can establish a knowledge bank of these types of resources.
2. Updating skills of teachers will have much importance. Various types of specific short term courses can be arranged.
3 There is a huge scope for an online radio that broadcasts syllabus based classes on a commercial basis. Various institutes can sponsor programmes to make radio
4. Community radio can be used as a medium on big campuses. Community radio uses low power transmitters to broadcast programmes to a targeted audience within a small area. License is required for this service.
5. Consultancy for the establishment of audio /video studios will be much in demand.
We are going to witness revolutionary changes in teaching and learning methods. Even conducting exams may also undergo quantum change. We must foresee the exit of formal classroom education sooner or later. From undergraduate level onwards, classes/ lectures may be distributed from a centre to various places through the internet or radio to benefit a large number of students. Academicians will have to find out a mechanism for effective monitoring and evaluation of students attending these classrooms. Fast developing communication skills hopefully will find a solution to this task. As per reports, there is a shortage of 1.2 million teachers in India. Online education will be a temporary solution for this shortage. Artificial intelligence and robotics can be used extensively for monitoring and evaluation purposes. Though online education is, in no way a substitute for classrooms, we have no option but to forcibly adjust with it. And even after this unprecedented period that makes the digital platform as the only viable alternative for formal education, the digital method is to stay here as a supporting platform.
Some states started avoiding exams as a solution. But this is just an escape route which is nothing but a perplexed reaction. Without proper evaluation, any educational system would gradually be degraded. Quality of the education determine the strength, versatility, future and independence of a Nation and any compromise on this would be fatal and self-immolating. Therefore newer methods for evaluating the students or for conducting examinations have to be developed. We must tread cautiously but with strong steps. New challenges and new solutions only will make our educational system effective and more competitive.