While the World Bank has been talking about closure of the schools during the pandemic, schools in India did not think twice before switching to alternative means of educating students.
Schools and edtech platforms have made full use of e-learning opportunities to maintain continuity in education.
Education due to coronavirus: The impact of coronavirus pandemic on education has been a cause of concern since the lockdown first began. To ensure that students did not end up losing their year due to the spread of the disease, the entire education sector in the country sprung into action and decided to use remote learning techniques. Even now, when the Centre has given schools the option to voluntarily switch to offline mode, most schools are choosing to stick to the online classes, so as to not compromise the education of students. While a recent report by the World Bank believes that the pandemic and resultant closure of schools is causing learning loss among students, schools and edtech platforms in the country have been looking at the lockdown as an opportunity to try different ways to impart knowledge.
The report enumerated the long-term impact of the pandemic on the students productivity and learning throughout their life in the South Asian region. The World Bank stated that the region was already dealing with a learning crisis before the pandemic struck, and now, with schools having been temporarily closed for five to six months, students risked losing about 0.5 years of their learning.
This, the World Bank said, would lead to serious long term consequences. In monetary terms, the region would end up facing economic loss of $622 billion. For India, the World Bank estimated a long-term loss of $400 billion due to the learning loss caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The report also stated that despite governmental efforts, engaging students through remote learning was proving to be difficult, estimating that as many as 55 lakh students would drop out of schools in South Asia due to the pandemic.
Coronavirus pandemic: Efforts of edtech platforms
However, edtech platforms in India have left no stone unturned to ensure that the number of students impacted by the pandemic are as low as possible.
Speaking to Financial Express Online, Pranav Kothari, VP of Large Scale Education Programmes, Educational Initiatives, said, “In response to school closures, Mindspark (a computer-based, online self-learning tool by Educational Initiatives) has been made available online in 8 vernacular languages. This allowed the existing Mindspark students to continue learning from where they left off in school. We are also offering free trials to new students. Typically, a personalised adaptive learning software is available only in English. We have tried to change that. There has been research that shows that younger children learn best when they study in their mother tongue. We hope to continue to support the education of all students regardless of their parent’s financial ability to purchase online learning software.”
Speaking about the World Bank report, Kothari added, “The report draws the connection between school education, higher education and productive jobs. It argues that school and college closures will cause tremendous loss of productivity and income. We believe the losses can be mitigated by focusing on learning with conceptual understanding. This pandemic provides an opportunity to pivot from ‘completing the syllabus’ to ‘teachers ensuring that all children achieve foundational literacy and numeracy’. Our systems need to pivot to enable children to develop conceptual learning, as opposed to simply memorising facts, figures and procedures for an exam. If we succeed in that, our students will be prepared for most external effects – including the fact that the nature of jobs done by humans and skills for the same are constantly evolving.”
Meanwhile, STEPapp, a gamified learning app, has tied up with the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs to bring innovative as well as advanced learning techniques to underprivileged children across the country.
“COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the lifestyle of everyone around the world. Every sector of the economy is hit by this change. The lockdown situation has emerged as a threat for some sectors and at the same time, an opportunity for some. As a result, the dynamics of education has seen a dramatic change. The world of edtech and e-learning came out as the knight in shining armour. STEPapp has seen a significant uptick in its usage during the lockdown period. Our usage has increased 20%-30% month-on-month. Also, our recently launched web platform has seen a significant increase in numbers. Overall, we are witnessing anywhere between 6 lakh to 10 lakh users on the platform every month and this number is increasing,” STEPapp Founder Praveen Tyagi told Financial Express Online.
However, Tyagi is more hopeful regarding the potential of edtech platforms and e-learning than the World Bank. He is of the view that edtech platforms not only provide a strong educational base for students, they do so innovatively and interactively. This, he believes, engages students more. He said, “There is absolutely no doubt that e-learning is changing the lives of students for the better. With a large number of schools closing down, the education system is prevailing to help the children make use of their time through online classes via video conferencing platforms. Many online learning platforms like STEPapp, Meritnation, Udemy and YouTube lectures, etc are providing a strong base for educating the students in an interactive manner. This increases the attentiveness of the students, engages them and enhances their learning process.”
He added, “The aftermath of this COVID-19 crisis will witness a change in the outlook of providing education to children. The new approaches of education that are tried in this pandemic will leave an everlasting impact on the system as health and development will remain as a concerning issue.”
COVID-19: How have schools coped up?
While the World Bank has been talking about closure of the schools during the pandemic, schools in India did not think twice before switching to alternative means of educating students, no matter how hard the transition would be. The World Bank report stated that during the closure of the schools, the students did not learn anything new, and in fact, had probably forgotten some of what they had learnt earlier. But that is untrue for schools in India, which quickly jumped into action and continued their classes online so that the students’ year is not wasted. Even if it required teachers to learn new technology overnight.
DPS Indirapuram Principal Sangeeta Hajela told Financial Express Online, “Remote learning has definitely been a drastic transformation not just for the students, but also for teachers and entire school management. While the beginning few days were in a helter-skelter, due to the apprehensions and uncertainty in the minds of all, a week after the announcement of the lockdown, with the cooperation of parents and students, teachers were able to formulate a flexible classroom plan. Challenges were undoubtedly many and engaging students was a task, but considering the confining scenario which everyone was subjected to, the school authorities let the idea of reduced duration classes and flexible timings into play. This helped us in retention of students as many of them had limited access to devices due to working parents, network issues, etc.”
Moreover, instead of focussing only on academics, schools have also tried to balance curricular and co-curricular activities so that the holistic development of students is not hampered. Pallavi Upadhyaya, Principal of DPS RNE Ghaziabad, said, “As we enter almost the 6th month of remote learning, this new pattern of education has undoubtedly made the students more tech savvy and agile when it comes to challenging situations. While our duty as schools remain in shaping the students’ holistic development, the pandemic has forced us to look for alternatives in that regard. Having a social circle and regular physical activities are really crucial for developing minds, it helps them build experiences and experiment with newer activities. Owing to this, our teachers made sure the academics and co-curricular activities received a balanced attention and participation from students. Parents played a huge role in these times, as they were the immediate mentors present for their children and helped us keep our bond with students intact even when we were not able to meet them personally.”
Teachers at Vidyashilp School went one more step further with online classes, to ensure that students could transition from home environment to mindset for studying more efficiently. “The pandemic brought the educators to the limelight and forced schools to move beyond delivering content and establish meaningful connections with the students. As we were trying to figure out the new normal of education, the focus was on the evolving roles of our stakeholders – students, teachers and parents. We began with the adoption of a learning management system to ensure seamless delivery of classes, revamped our curriculum to suit the online format, and rendered relaxations on assessments and evaluations for students. Our teachers had to unlearn years of practice and pick up on technology skills to be able to give online classes,” the Academic Head of Vidyashilp School Nalini Ponnappa told Financial Express Online.
“In fact, in the beginning they would practice their teaching style on fellow teachers, collect feedback and apply it to their actual classes. Additionally, to ensure student engagement, they ushered in children and brought them out from lessons with breathing techniques, meditation, storytelling and other fun activities. These methods of teaching also required a change in mindset for both teachers and parents. Parents also had to invest in the right infrastructure for virtual classrooms and ensure a peaceful environment for the children to concentrate,” Ponnappa added.
However, she also acknowledged the issues that came with remote learning. “While online education has provided us the necessary channel to reach out to students in today’s world, there is still a downside to it. Low internet penetration and unsupportive home environments have made the transition to online learning difficult for some students. The faculty and students are stressed because of the uncertainty they are facing, and with not being able to follow a set routine there is added anxiety. Some of these reasons might lead to parents withdrawing their children from schools and opt for home schooling this year,” she said.