Blended learning: The best foot forward in a post-pandemic era

The ‘phygital’ model is becoming the new face of Indian education and the NEP is aligned in a similar manner.

Blended learning: The best foot forward in a post-pandemic era
One must get used to the idea of things never returning to the pre-pandemic era.

By Piyush Nangru

The Hewlett Packard India Future of Learning 2022 Study has revealed an overwhelming preference for a blended model of education amongst students, teachers, and educators even after traditional forms of learning are resuming slowly and steadily. The Covid-19 pandemic caused immense disruptions in the learning process of students and as per a UNICEF report, in India, 92 percent students lost at least one specific language ability and 82 per cent lost at least one specific mathematical ability from the previous year. 

In the past two years, the challenge that emerged was taking the schools to the kids as kids couldn’t go to school and that was where online education came to the rescue. Offering personalised classes, specific attention to subject and an interactive model of education, it opened up a vast space for EdTech companies to cater to the large consumption demand from the Tier- 2,3 cities.

The prevalent digital divide was magnified due to Covid-19 pandemic and as schools scrambled to close the accessibility gap, the issues of children losing focus due to being isolated and allied mental health issues came to the fore. Being isolated inside homes and not having access to a physical classroom proved not only detrimental to children having issues like ADHD, it also increased depression and anxiety in students. A UNICEF report highlighted online security concerns for students and Unicef’s Global Partnership to End Violence Executive Director Dr. Howard Taylor said, “School closures and strict containment measures mean more and more families are relying on technology and digital solutions to keep children learning, entertained and connected to the outside world, but not all children have the necessary knowledge, skills and resources to keep themselves safe online.”

The report also highlighted that spending more time on virtual platforms can leave children vulnerable to online sexual exploitation and grooming, as predators look to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic. A lack of face-to-face contact with friends and partners may lead to heightened risk-taking such as sending sexualized images, while increased and unstructured time online may expose children to potentially harmful and violent content as well as greater risk of cyberbullying, cited the UNICEF report.

In India, students in West Bengal were found writing their exams in WhatsApp language hence it is prudent to say that a blended model of education is the best way forward. As mentioned earlier, 98 percent of parents and 99 percent of teachers felt it was best for the children to continue with online education alongside offline learning. When it comes to students, 91 percent of them believe that online education supplements traditional

classroom learning.

The recently concluded ‘Pariksha par charcha’ by Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke on the need for innovations in education and highlighted the vision encompassed in the National Education Policy. The NEP not only highlighted the need to bridge the learning gap through a blended model, it also gave a vision to incorporate vernacular learning in the ambit of this very model. Hence, the ‘phygital’ model is becoming the new face of Indian education and the NEP is aligned in a similar manner, encouraging flexibility and allowing students to focus on skill-based education. Promotion of hub & spoke, click and mortar model of universities and establishment of digital universities was the main highlight of this year’s budget and the government showed its commitment by allocating Rs 63,449 crore to the department of school education & literacy and the higher education department was allocated Rs 40,828 crore for the next financial year, which is an increase of 6.6 per cent over the current financial year.

An added benefit of the blended mode is the option for learners to get customised learning and soft-skills that enhance their employability. A ‘one size fits all’ model of education that was being provided by the traditional classes has been upgraded to a new era where learners can enhance their existing classroom education with constant upskilling, personality development and ensure that their education is aligned with industry needs. All of these factors find a perfect audience in the Tier-2, 3 cities as there is a huge market that was previously untapped and has now begun reaching its full potential. The existing demand has been identified by private EdTech players and innovative solutions are being delivered to suit the needs of the learners. Alongside bridging accessibility in education, these platforms are catering to a lack of school infrastructure and ensuring that education is delivered at a pace set by the learners and not the other way around.

Blended learning has not only allowed students to receive education in both remote and in- person models, it has also provided a flexible learning system that can adhere to different learning styles. Being an interactive, diverse and personalised system, it has for sure risen in popularity and demand as it integrates technology with foundations of a robust education. While it breaks barriers in accessibility, it also formulates a space where a student can thrive as an individual and have an immersive peer-based experience that he/she can learn from.

One must get used to the idea of things never returning to the pre-pandemic era and correctly nomenclatured as the ‘new normal’, the post-pandemic time is the era that’ll offer the most chances to turn crisis into an opportunity. An education system that factors the most holistic model of student development is needed and while young kids need to be pulled back from screens to ensure that their social skills are developed, learners of a higher age need to be provided with customised education that ultimately enhances employability. The above mentioned factor can be touted as a reason why the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and National Council of Educational Research & Training (NCERT) have asked organisations like Microsoft Education and Tech Avant-Garde to train teachers in online learning. Teachers that are equipped with the changing face of technology and can adapt to the swiftly changing dynamics are the need of the hour.

Private stakeholders that ensure upskilling and alignment with industry demand along with a government vision that ensures children are not being left out and are provided with the fundamental right of education, is the essence of a blended model and the promising way to a better future.

The author is co-founder and COO of Sunstone.

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