04 Aug 2021 11:22 IST

What NEP and virtual learning could mean for the future of education

Online learning is an opportunity to address the long-standing shortcomings and inequalities of education system

Digital transformations, connected campuses, and blended learning have become the norm for the Indian education sector. The disruption caused by the pandemic was unforeseeable and it brought to the fore the resilience of educational institutions as they embraced and adapted to the virtual delivery models overnight.

The challenge was tricky in India as the country boasts of a higher percentage of a younger population. Nearly 320 million students were affected by the sudden closure of schools and colleges and educational institutes. The problem was compounded by the digital divide in society, which adversely affected nearly 80 per cent of the students in taking to online classes. The learning loss that occurred during Covid-19 is undeniable with only 27 per cent of households in India having access to the internet and 47 per cent to smartphones, according to National Sample Survey.

Policy intervention

The much-awaited National Education Policy 2020 (NEP) was announced to address the need for a comprehensive and pragmatic response to the pandemic and mitigate its effects on education. The NEP’s emphasis on Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN), framed as an urgent ‘National Mission,’ is a great initiative that needs to be implemented. There has to be a paradigm shift in foundational learning where children ‘read to learn’ more than they ‘learn to read.’ The vision needs to nurture self-learners.

As famously said by Nelson Mandela: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” The NEP vision combined with digital empowerment and reskilling of teachers and institutions is slated to change the way India imparts education, and in the long- term it will be the most far-reaching tool for awareness and growth. All the stakeholders of the education system — teachers, students and parents have become more focused on upgrading and up-skilling themselves. With home schooling, flexible and collaborative learning, and introduction of different technologies such as virtual classrooms, and WhatsApp-based learning — the quality of education is expected to change.

Both students and parents are expected to ask the question of why education and what kind of education. Learning in schools will have a new purpose, and it will be a major deviation from the information-focused education of today. As integrated technology delivers information with ease, it will be the value addition, application and usability of the subjects that will come to the forefront — that is quality of education will rise in the long run.

New approach

Initiatives like Atal Tinkering Labs will make more sense to these inquisitive minds which will go beyond information education to applicative education. The technology advancements such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), and a range of new devices and tools in schools will spur off more creativity and fuel the start-up ecosystem. The self-sufficient employment generation, entrepreneurship culture, and innovative ecosystem will become more natural, true to the spirit of Start-up India and Make in India.

The pandemic has changedthe way students look at knowledge, and the public-private partnership should be further encouraged to be able to surmount the challenges of the digital gap and to get all the students in a virtual classroom. Education has survived without the four walls of schools and many institutions have already been thinking about more innovative ways of course delivery, more oriented toward purpose and meaning.

We can only hope that Covid-19, because of its disruptions to education, can nudge institutions to think of online education not as a lesser version of face-to-face education, but as a different way to organise education and see it as an opportunity to address various long-standing shortcomings and inequalities in our current system. It will be seen as an opportunity to rethink education from the perspectives of the student and not primarily from the curriculum.

As pandemic has taught, even if schools are closed, learning can happen. It has also become evident that there need to be an urgent and renewed thrust on getting every child back to learning. As the uneven landscape slowly smoothens out through systematic strategies, our thoughts on education also need to become dynamic. The significance, relevance, and utility will be the three most important questions asked about education and skills in the post-Covid times thus making the focus on learning sharper and more agile.

(The writer is the founder of edtech start-up Eduphoria.)