Covid-19 has changed the course of education in the past one and half years, forcing the instructor-to-student interaction to go online. Lack of IT support, continuous changes in technology, security issues in digital and software services and unequal access to tech are some of the challenges students, parents, and teachers have been struggled with during the pandemic.
Sayani Pradhan, an Assistant Teacher at Mahendranath High School, Kolkata, has been trying to teach her students by recording audio lectures and sending them notes through WhatsApp, as it is the only common medium available, and efficient too, to reach out to the students during the pandemic. As She would also send handwritten bilingual notes to her students through the same platform as bringing them together for the virtual class was not feasible, with most students did not have a stable internet connection or a smart device.
For newly promoted Ragyashree, a posh Kolkata school student, she misses meeting friends above anything. Although she enjoys the comfort of staying at home and relaxed class timings, doubt-clearing sessions, class participation on Zoom calls are not really the same.
Financial Express (Online) got in touch with industry experts and teachers to know how the education sector responded to the transition and the special challenges:
According to Prof Parimal Mandke, Acting President, NIIT University, a major drawback of online learning is “minimal socialization,” which is an important part of traditional learning. “Not just in classrooms, socialization also happens in other settings in the campus through peer-to-peer interactions, creating a real-world experience and building confidence in learning. Also, subjects that require introspection, deep discussion, and debate are more effectively taught in a traditional setting,” said Mandke.
For Avirup Ghosh, Assistant Professor, Department of English at Panihati Mahavidyalaya (Kolkata), who started a YouTube channel for his lecture session during the lockdown, the study from home arrangement even with its share of pros is beset by the absence of direct face-to-face interaction with students.
“A great deal of teaching revolves around observing student behaviour inside the classroom and creating an atmosphere where students and teachers can participate in more tangible and engaging ways. This, along with the more behavioural aspects of teaching-learning modalities is missing as far as the online mode of education is concerned” he said.
As for Irwin Anand, MD, Udemy India, the transitions made education more flexible focusing on the need of individuals to upskill continuously. Moreover, the change gave Edtech platforms like Udemy, which saw a significant increase in course enrollments, an opportunity to “step in and provide learners with skills to help them navigate the changes that the pandemic brought forth.”
Detailing about how the students had to equip themselves for remote learning, Mandke said, “The sudden change has brought forth many challenges for students like adaptability, technical issues, computer knowledge, time management, and many more.” NIIT started a feature-rich integrated digital learning platform with virtual labs, projects, assessments to make the teaching-learning experience to be as close to the classroom teaching-learning. Anand, on the other hand, thinks even with the challenges, “today’s generation being tech-savvy, the change was cushioned for students and professionals alike.”
About the change in education, Mandke opined that Covid-19 has stressed the importance of online learning. However, he also feels that as an important part of the model remains online, areas such as lab activities are being executed in physical mode. He also emphasised the need for a “blended learning model that includes a vast range of digital activities along with face-to-face components to collectively deliver effective learning.
As for Udemy’s Anand, online learning has opened up newer avenues that were not explored before —from up-skilling workers to supplementing students with handy courses; be it a 10-year-old who wants to learn English writing, or a 60-year- old who wants to learn tech skills, online has it all.”
For assessing student learning in the online environments, Mandke says, “we need a comprehensive assessment system that can facilitate the fair evaluation of students digitally. Assessment and evaluation for courses taught online could be carried out in an electronic medium, using methods that the teacher deems fit.”
Prof Ghosh, however, says online education should not be thought of as a substitute for classroom teaching. “It is more of a supplement, and even after educational institutions open, I don’t see why we shouldn’t continue with a blended form of learning which will include both classroom and virtual teaching. We just have to know how to reap maximum benefits from the online mode, harnessing its audio-visual facilities in particular,” he said.
As for an increase in instructors wanting to pursue their passion and teach, Udemy’s Anand says, “Systems and processes that were on the verge of going online became so overnight, nudging people to up-skill to stay connected and relevant in the current scenario of work and life. We’ve seen an increase in new instructors creating courses on our platform, as everyday experts look to share their knowledge with the world and find new sources of income.”