Covid-19 crisis has shaken up all education stakeholders; given new momentum to the online learning: Dr. Sandeep Shastri, Vice Chancellor, JLU Bhopal

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March 1, 2021 3:45 PM

With an ever-increasing middle class of India, the demand for quality education and better infrastructure is on a rise in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities.

Sandeep Shastri Dr. Sandeep Shastri, Vice Chancellor, JLU Bhopal

With an ever-increasing middle class of India, the demand for quality education and better infrastructure is on a rise in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. These cities are constantly adapting the urbanisation processes of the Metro cities and are emerging as an alternative to the saturated markets of the metro cities. Also, as we are all aware, Coronavirus (COVID-19) has disrupted the global economy and affected universities, colleges and schools as well, the demand is rapidly expanding.

At the same time, the COVID19 has given the opportunity to Indian educational colleges and Universities to become “Atmanirbhar” by introducing new ways of teaching, uplifting the facilities and infrastructures for their students and other stakeholders. A study has revealed that many reputed Indian universities have entered the global rankings in various disciplines and have outstanding intellectual resources in the form of faculty, publication, patent, research, international affiliations, infrastructural facilities, placements, and international partnerships. They are comparable to any foreign university and may be termed to be even better.

With the implementation of NEP, Indian Universities are all geared up to offer the required exposure same as the international universities. With the help of the digital advancements and the support from the government, Indian Universities will be the preferred choice for those students who were planning to go abroad for their higher studies.

Here Dr. Sandeep Shastri, Vice Chancellor, Jagran Lakecity University (Bhopal) answers to the different questions like how COVID19 has impacted the education system, how institutions from tier 2 towns can compete with colleges in metros like Delhi NCR, etc. Excerpts:

How colleges in tier II towns can help in uplifting the benchmarks in its curriculum?

The tier ll towns in India are most critical because they are at the cusp of change. The sheer volume in terms of student intake and demographics that they represent will be critical in defining the future of the country and the direction it takes. Much of the change and evolution in higher education is being witnessed in the tier ll towns today. We are beginning to see a lot of innovation stemming from tier II towns, which are an authentic representation, of the new age `aspirational India` which is on the cusp of becoming highly capable and globally connected. It is therefore, imperative for educators in tier ll towns to assure that a strong foundation based on digital integration, infrastructure and experiential learning is able to catalyze their capabilities and aspirations.

How do global partnerships, helps the institutes in smaller towns?

Thanks to the technology and infrastructure available in these smaller towns now, the students here have high aspirations and ambitions, no less than what we find in the big metros. They are well connected and are aware of global developments. The fact that these towns are geographically small does not interfere with the thought process of these youngsters who have an enormous vision and grit to achieve groundbreaking feats. Indian youth today aspire for a global outlook, a national vision and a local flavor.

This is what drives the seeking of global academic and industrial partnerships which provide these young learners with the right and desirable exposure to global best practices, ideals, values, beliefs, and experiences. I must hasten to add one thing- the towns are not the only ones which are gaining from these global partnerships. It is a two-way street where the global partners also get to benefit from the texture of this local flavor and imbibe the values and experiences which these local partners have to offer. I will also very cautiously state that global partnerships are not merely to bring the global to the local so that young learners do not just stare in awe of the global, but become equal contributors and benefactors of this global-local partnership.

How and what are the post-COVID educational reforms that could bring normalcy in teaching and learning?

Entering into the new post-COVID normal, I am certain that the future of teaching and learning is “blended”, skillfully designing curriculum to include physical classroom learning supported by an online learning model. Indian regulatory authorities have allowed for 40% online learning and, as we at Jagran Lakecity University are going forward with adequate adjustments which blends both the mediums. This blending has to be carefully, cautiously, and creatively calibrated. Online learning modules must be created to effectively supplement offline learning and the proportions of both should be laid out keeping in mind the best possible learning outcomes despite limitations. Two main characteristics of blended learning are:

? Members of the Faculty are facilitators and not just teachers: Today, teachers are not the only providers of information as there are a plethora of avenues and platforms for that. As a result, they must support the students in making sense of the information that is acquired. Learning today needs to focus on how learners use this information to enhance their capacities and capabilities, while preparing for the future.

? Practice-based learning will bridge the gap between the `world of study` and the `world of work`: The flexibility of curriculum will be the determining factor of the NEP-2020’s aspirations of making youth, work-ready. Now, students can get a certificate, diploma, degree, on completion of 1,2,3 and 4 years of their education respectively. However, they will be given the choice of opting out, gaining experience and returning to education at their own pace and choice. The other important factor will be the choice for inter disciplinary studies, rather than in silos, wherein for example, a math student will be allowed to learn to appreciate arts and vice versa.

How colleges and institutions from tier 2 towns can compete with colleges in metros like Delhi NCR?

The below three data points perfectly summarizes the competitive potential of institutions based in tier 2 towns:

In 2009, I was privileged to be the author with my friends in academia, the first ever survey-based study on ‘Aspirations of Youth in India’. It came out as a book called ‘Indian Youth in a Transforming World (published by Sage ).

Secondly, in 2009, the Government of Karnataka asked me to head a committee, to draft the youth policy of Karnataka, and we did a comprehensive survey about youth in the state which then became the basis for the youth policy.

Third, is a series of surveys on youth since 2008, conducted by a group I am privileged to be a part of, called ‘LOKNITI’.

What do all these three studies say in common?

The studies proved beyond a doubt that, if you look at the aspirations of youth in small towns and cities, it is phenomenally higher than the aspirations of youth in the metros. Now, this may be a byproduct of the fact that youngsters in metros are already exposed to so much learning and knowledge. On the other hand young learners in small towns and cities, on account of their aspirational approach, there is a much greater hunger for learning and when that same access is granted. There is a greater absorption of the skills that you are imparting to them. So I would therefore argue that I don’t think in any way students in tier 2 cities are less competent than students elsewhere.

Firstly, I believe that the energy, drive, passion is much more because it’s a fact that the value of something like global exposure and opportunity, access to world-class Infrastructure is known, when you are aware that is not easily available around. Secondly, I think educational institutions in tier 2 cities have a much greater responsibility to meet these aspirations of young students in their institutions because as mentioned before, these are at the cusp of change which is capable of influencing India without any deficiency in terms of capacity or passion or energy. The deficit lies is in terms of the access to opportunity. So I’m convinced that if education institutions in tier 2 cities provide those opportunities and platforms for young people to hone their skills.

How do you think COVID has impacted colleges and universities in positive and negative sense?

I think the Covid-19 crisis has shaken up all the stakeholders, out of their possible complacency. Discussions pertaining to integration of online learning Pre-COVID was already underway for quite a few years, however the momentum to implement was slow. Covid-19 forced us to experiment and eventually integrate online learning in a very short span of time to ensure minimal disruption. In some cases, the experiment started as a disaster with a lot of trial and error involved. I have known teachers who did not know how to utilize streaming platforms, facing all types of connectivity issues and learning digital etiquettes on the fly.

In the initial days, there were a lot of challenges but at the end of the day, it was the creativity, the drive, the passion that was shown by both sides that made an online classroom a success.

Some parents also attended and appreciated the teachers. But, we also saw cases where the knowledge of some exceptional teachers was getting questioned because of a lack of communication skills. Parents were hesitant to pay fees, due to the disruption exactly at a time when we had to consider additional investments in digital technology while also bringing in good teachers with exceptional communication skills, at low salaries. Ultimately, COVID-19 has taught universities that there is no status quo and it has dramatically demonstrated that change is the only eternal principle.

There are some questions also that need to be answered. Has a larger section of economically weaker students benefited from online learning and if yes, then how skewed was the ‘learning curve’ across various degrees of comprehension?

What are your views around Union Budget 2021-22?

This is the 1st budget after the government formally adopted the New National Education Policy 2020’, so I was looking for a little more evidence of steps towards the implementation of NEP-2020. Many would argue that the implementation depends on the states as well, as education is a concurrent subject. A little more generosity could be shown in terms of resource allocation, given the fact that studies show, 27% of the employable population of the world would be from India by 2030.

In the past 20 years, the private sector has emerged as a major enabler of higher education and I am very hopeful about the emergence of a productive public-private partnership in the future. The NEP-2020 also has categorized universities into three heads, 1st ‘Research-Intensive universities’ where there will be teaching too, 2nd are the ‘Teaching Universities’ which will also do research and 3rd Autonomous Colleges’. The earlier division of private/ public universities, central/state universities will be a thing of the past which is a very welcome step. The finer nuances have to be worked out especially in the case of private universities as they get no funding support from the government. Private universities cater to the intellectual and creative needs of the youth and will continue to play a major role. Thus, we had expected that the budget and government pronouncements offer a bit more of clarity on the question regarding the autonomy of private institutions.

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