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The Impact of Corona: The Road Ahead by Krishnendu Sarkar


Impact of lockdown and global pandemic on our education system

The unwarranted situation had adversely impacted the conventional education system of face to face teaching and learning in classrooms and laboratories. Moreover, admissions and placement processes had to hurriedly and completely switch to virtual means. Our systems had to prepare as fast as possible embracing digital alternatives for desired continuity. Besides, remote career counseling, job interviews, psychological assistance, etc. the big task in our hands was to leverage our Learning Management System (LMS) for e-learning in asynchronous mode, and video conferencing platforms based online teaching and learning in near synchronous mode. In this situation, our participants profusely used TCSion LMS for references, notes & assignments and participated in virtual classrooms majorly over Zoom. It was observed that the attendance of students went up much beyond expectations with flexible scheduling of classes done in a participative approach. The fact that all our students had their allotted email Ids in our domain (nshm.edu) had hugely facilitated the safe and secure e-communications and document exchanges. Further, our University also stipulated mandatory additional points during the lockdown period for home-based productive work ranging from social-media services to wellness to performing arts and other useful creations that all added to joyful learning. That apart, we have guided and encouraged students to register and pursue relevant online certification courses. However, it would be too early to conclude on the impact of this work-under-progress as above.

Initiatives taken to stay motivated in these uncertain times

The approach was three-fold: Being individually responsible, being motivated and being socially responsible.

The first and foremost initiative was to instill the responsibility of home quarantine along with all other national guidelines on safe practices to eradicate the corona pandemic. Through our 7 Schools and 5 Centres, we encouraged students to share their made-in-home works. Interestingly, many students volunteered to learn new skills. And, as a welcome change, their choices were liberal. Their online engagements and evidence were all part of continuous evaluation. Students showed readiness with e-assessment by way of quizzes, rapid-fire multiple-choice questions, do-it-yourself minor projects, etc. We initiated master classes with famed external experts, designed rapid assessment quizzes, anytime learning, career skilling, mental health support, and have provided a host of other URLs for webinars, online skill courses, hackathon mocks, innovation contests, and idea exchanges, etc. We also provided ration supplies and relevant awareness support through our NGO partner to the villages in Nadia district that are adopted for model community development under our ongoing Unnat Bharat Abhiyan scheme.

Best practices adopted to ensure seamless online learning

  • Pre-emptive measures apprising participants on safe and secure handling of VC platforms
  • Weekly report on online classes and activities
  • Well-stocked LMS
  • Lockdown specific mandatory additional requirements
  • Credit linked MOOCs
  • Continuous evaluation
  • Reaching students in low bandwidth locations with asynchronous e-learning modes

Impact of initiatives on students

High spikes were initially observed with students’ attendance that flattened a bit subsequently but desirably will hold above 75% all through the lockdown period. This in a way is evidence that students are responding well to new e-learning initiatives. To sustain that, more efforts in terms of exiting gamification, cloud-supported group projects, critical thinking demanded context simulations, etc will effectively enhance the absorption of knowledge and skills in the days ahead.

Impact on interpersonal, team management skills : Home quarantine might limit the multi-sensory stimulations that otherwise students would gain much in a group with face to face interactions. Unlike the digital, the physical and expansive spaces would stimulate more the ‘senses’ right from corridor to the classroom to the cafe, from mind to the means to market and from logic to lab to land, and more. It might be highly likely, that with a higher propensity for the online ecosystem the students’ interpersonal and team management skills would cease to flourish beyond a point, much lower than their respective potentials. On the flip side, students would be able to unlock new ways to connect and relate using social media and web resources.

Road ahead: Exams, evaluation and online results

Institute shall conduct exams as per the new norms laid by parent University. It is understood that online line examinations shall be held for all final year students while the rest all students might have to appear both for the missed even semester examinations and following odd semester examinations in December 2020. We are preparing our students on Multiple Choice Questions, True or False, Multiple Select Questions, Situation based questions, etc. as part of continuous evaluation. Students get to see their marks in the system. Their end semester University examinations shall be held in July 2020 in similar modes. The declaration of results and grade cards shall be issued by University as per the prevailing practice.

Onset of online learning revolution in India and abroad

The teaching-learning-content-assessment continuity might not get affected, unlike many other businesses because of the high capability-maturity of online learning models and methods. Besides, they are in continuous quality improvement with the appropriation of smarter technologies. As a spinoff, the physical ecosystem of education would get re-imagined to become more relevant not just for career services but also for life-skills development. It can be professed that the most interesting times for education are in the offing, where innovation will be the master key to unlock new vistas of learning, cooperation, and transfer.

The adversity imposed by the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic on educational systems worldwide, led to the near-total closures of schools, universities, and colleges impacting about 98.5 percent of the world’s student population. But also, it has sown seeds of opportunity in form of close-to-reality virtual programs (UNICEF sources) and open-educational applications and platforms to reach learners remotely and thereby limit the disruption of education and assure on quality till the last mile. However, there is an underlying concern here because of the rise in rampant proliferation and competition in Edtech businesses. They might exploit every means and/or employ powerful influence in a knowledge-based economy that would make learners, right from their early years, majorly captive to online learning. And, with continuing disruption in businesses there would always be a surge in demand for a particular set of skills to address a particular set of demands in a continuum and online learning will be unputdownable. Will that not comprise on multi-sensory learning stimuli? To ensure that it doesn’t, the digital and the physical entities have to co-create innovative educational ecosystems for continuously updating how, what, where, when, and what students learn. There are strong views worldwide in favor of greater flexibility and affordability that increase access to curricula and allow students wider personalized choice and means to engage with the right learning units as per the potential. Subsequently, a combination of such completed learning units can lead to the attainment of an award or recognition. That way technology will reasonably help to ensure adaptive learning and assessment and most importantly its gainful employment.

The India Story?

Given the above, the ready-to-go draft of the National Education Policy would require a serious revisit. The present regulatory frameworks have to discard many ‘would-be’ redundant quality criteria and ratios. For example, faculty/books/computers/built-up area – student ratios, compliances and control, inspections, and all such mandates might seem out of place in the days to come. Rather, the need of the times would call for a global community working together to scale access to quality education. Where, Schools, Universities, and Industry sectors can be cogent partners in progress to usher technology-led transformations with shared learning-credits, research problems, infrastructure, and faculty resources along with insights from a larger network to shape the direction of demanded programs and courses to serve more diverse learners on a massive scale.

India has to raise its GEP from 25 percent at present to 50 percent by 2035. By 2030, India is set to have the largest working-age population in the world. Not only would they need literacy but also jobs and life skills. Given the GER imperative, Indian universities can merit their way of offering online education support and/or degrees to widen access to higher education. Preferably, India would want its home-grown Edtech companies and start-ups to retain a major chunk of its massive open online education business locally and also globally like Coursera, edX, etc. It would be even better foreseeing strategic alliances with global online education leaders to exploit gainfully the demographic dividends. India has to however ensure due diligence, checks, and balances to mitigate under-par and/or fake awards and recognitions attained through online sources, especially the low hanging short online courses and certificates that come with lucrative RoI promises. Arguably, the India story has been promising with robust distance education from revered open institutions like IGNOU and massive online learning portals like Swayam-NPTEL. Furthermore, e-learning has become one of the most preferred methods of learning among millennials that post the pandemic can grow at a CAGR of even more than 50 percent. Besides, 5G technologies will add more stimulus and global Industry partnerships like that of Reliance Jio – Facebook will significantly contribute to enhancing the GER with affordable talent development and prospects of its ready transfer/employment anywhere in the world. Today around 3,500 start-ups are catering to the Edtech business, creating content in various formats and languages for students to consume at their convenience. In 2018, they received close to $700 Mn in funding — an 85% jump from the $375 Mn funding in 2017 of which $230 Mn was invested in BYJU’s alone. The 35% population that presently uses the internet that total up to nearly 700 million, which would grow further and fast, pointing towards India’s enormous potential as a huge market for e-learning.