14 Jul 2020 18:36 IST

The way forward for India’s education sector

Educational institutions must further the new e-learning modalities within classrooms in the future

In a span of few months, the coronavirus pandemic has changed the education landscape across the world. The global health crisis has presented a roadmap on how education could change for the better — and the worse — in the long term.

As the coronavirus spread like wildfire across Asia, Europe, West Asia and the US, several countries quickly decided to arrest the contagion from the full-blown pandemic through immediate lockdowns and, since then, there have been multiple changes made to the education landscape. As of March 13, the OECD estimated that over 421 million children have been affected due to school closures announced or implemented in 39 countries.

These risk-control decisions have paved the way for alternative, innovative modes of knowledge transfer, be it home-schooling or online classes, especially in the worst affected countries. These innovations during unprecedented times of crisis have made a lasting impact on the trajectory of learning and digitisation. With lockdown restrictions relaxed by many governments, we have to see how these new models will help educational institutions resume their classroom sessions soon.

Here are some takeaways for the education sector moving forward into the new normal:

Education through innovations

People have been lamenting the slow-paced, traditional teaching practices that follow the centuries-old lecture-based approaches in outdated classrooms. Today, Covid-19 has become the catalyst for change in our educational institutes, which are opening up to online education.

To help cease the virus' spread, students started home-learning in early March until decisions were made regarding phone learning, followed by online learning through video interactions. Now, students have adopted the online mode for serious learning and lighter subjects, such as, physical education or music. Students are shooting videos and sending it to their teachers as “homework”. With high-speed technology becoming more prevalent, we have been witnessing learners and solution-providers truly embracing the ‘learn anywhere, anytime’ concept of digital education in a range of formats. Now, with in-person classroom sessions set to resume soon, learning will become more fun, complemented as it os with new learning modalities — from live broadcasts to ‘educational influencers’ to virtual reality experiences.

Public-private educational partnerships

In just a couple of months, we have witnessed learning consortiums and coalitions taking shape, with diverse stakeholders — including governments, publishers, education professionals, technology providers, and telecom network operators — coming together to utilise digital platforms as a temporary solution to the crisis. In emerging countries where education has predominantly been provided by the government, this could become an increasingly prevalent and consequential trend to future education.

Many institutes are planning to develop a new cloud-based, online learning and broadcasting platform and upgrade education infrastructure. Through examples like these, it is quite clear that our educational innovation is receiving attention beyond the typical government-funded or non-profit-backed social projects. In the past decade, we have already seen far greater interest, and investment, coming from the private sector in education solutions and innovation. From Microsoft and Google in the US to Samsung in Korea to Tencent, Ping An, and Alibaba in China, corporations are awakening to the strategic imperative of an educated populace.

While most of these initiatives to date have been limited in scope, and relatively isolated, the pandemic has actually paved the way for much larger-scale, cross-industry coalitions to be formed around a common educational goal.

Narrowing digital divide

As schools in affected areas have been finding new solutions to impart knowledge, the quality of teaching largely depends on the quality of digital access. Not only has video conferencing through Zoom helped students and teachers, learning has happened on WhatsApp messenger and email too, especially in the rural areas.

This stressful times of Covid-19 have taught students the importance of building resilience to face such threats and come out victorious. It has also helped them learn quick decision-making, creative problem-solving and the importance of adaptability in an unpredictable world.

(The author is Vice-Chancellor, JK Lakshmipat University, Jaipur.)