The lockdown due to the coronavirus has evidently had a major impact on school and college education. With their regular schedule disrupted enormously, schools and colleges have tried to fall back on online tools to impart education.
But unfortunately, going by the feedback from both the students and teaching community in India, the result has been far from encouraging.
Many people from college academics that TechRadar India contacted over phone have expressed concern over some students being left behind due to constraints in the infrastructure.
Some worries are well-known, like the absence of laptops and WiFi impeding a student’s ability to participate online. Students without access to printers face further challenges.
"Quite clearly, technology and technological tools for learning are not the equalizing force that some of us had imagined they could be," said one professor on conditions of anonymity. "My classes have been disasters as participation from students is askew. Only those with better tools and equipment are able to perform well. And that is a tragedy," she adds.
Internet penetration is an issue
Even in the US, online education or “ed tech” has not exactly democratized the learning process across the socioeconomic spectrum. The video classrooms and other technological aids - Bill Gates once claimed these tools would “revolutionize the classroom" - have not provided the intended results.
In India, experts question the reach of e-classes given that (as per the Telecom Statistics 2018 released by the Economics Research Unit of the Department of Telecom’s Economics Research Unit), the internet subscribers base stood at 483.96 million. This translates into 84.74 per 100 inhabitants in urban India and 16.42 per 100 rural habitations. With these numbers, it is impossible to ensure equal learning experience for all across the spectrum.
If technology infuses a difference, then there are other issues too that are hard to address. One school teacher in Bangalore told this author that home environment threw up their own distractions. "The loss of in-person teaching for students with learning disabilities is another area of concern."
The internet is still inaccessible for many students with disabilities, and educational platforms can also be exclusive. Children with learning disorders like dyslexia may miss out as fully remote classes reduce one-on-one guidance.
Manoj Dixit, the vice chancellor of Ram Manohar Lohia Avadh University (Faizabad) has been quoted in the media as saying, “though this is an immediate response in the face of a crisis, digital learning as a tool is fundamentally faulty. In the initial phases, some level of curiosity and excitement might draw students to it, but long term benefits of it have been questioned even in the most developed countries of the world.”
Who will train the trainer?
Another area of concern is most of the teachers and professors themselves have not had training in the process involving education through online tools. Hence their efficiency is mostly patchy. Many old teachers have had difficulty in adjusting themselves to the new scheme of things.
"Faculty selection should gradually be linked to technology friendliness and keenness for technology adoption. Similarly, accreditation parameters, criteria need reconsideration. All these steps will help strengthen the country’s digital learning infrastructure in the long run," says Dr Ashwini Kumar Sharma, Pro Chancellor, Vijaybhoomi University and Former DG, NIELIT, Govt of India.
But everyone is hedging their bets. They believe e-schools will be the future. But the time right now is too flux-filled to make any concrete plans and set in motion any processes. As one teacher said, "it’s difficult to create a sustainable plan without knowing what the future will bring."