The digitalization of education: A boon or a bane?

When the pandemic caught us unaware in March 2020, followed by the continued lockdowns, we all realized how digitization saved the day by altering our day-to-day lives, into what we started calling the ‘new normal’!

The digitalization of education: A boon or a bane?
The pandemic-induced socio-economic turmoil impacted everything we can think of, and education was no exception.

By Dr Samir Kapur

Naysayers have been waxing eloquent that physical academic environments can enhance camaraderie and collaboration among students, infuse a sense of teamwork and community, and play a crucial role in their overall personality development. However, in the face of the unprecedented health crisis that the pandemic had unleashed, the feasibility of the aforementioned is minuscule, if at all.

When the pandemic caught us unaware in March 2020, followed by the continued lockdowns, we all realized how digitization saved the day by altering our day-to-day lives, into what we started calling the ‘new normal’! Though the country had already been undergoing rapid digitization long before the pandemic hit us, the lockdowns and social distancing guidelines just accelerated the pace of this transformation, as it was the only available alternative. The ramified impact of the COVID 19 pandemic all through its three waves reiterated the fact that evolutions and change are the only constant and always will continue to remain so.

The pandemic-induced socio-economic turmoil impacted everything we can think of, and education was no exception. As per data by the UNESCO Learning Portal, 2020, over 87% of the world’s student population was affected by lockdowns and quarantines, and 1.52 billion students were absent from school and other educational institutions. The COVID-19’s abruptness, uncertainty, and volatility compelled the educational system to adapt quickly in tandem with the new learning landscape.

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To be more resilient, equitable, and inclusive in these trying times, educational institutions leveraged technology like never before, tried to address learning losses, make amends to minimize the impact on vulnerable and disadvantaged communities. UNESCO established the Global Education Coalition, to mobilize and support learning continuity. Today, it counts 175 members working around three central themes: Gender, connectivity, and teachers.

In India, even before the pandemic struck, several home-grown Edu-tech startups had been collaborating with academic institutions to make education digital and it does have its inherent advantages. Even globally, edtech investments reached US$18.66 billion in 2019 and the overall market for online education was projected to reach $350 Billion by 2025.

Talking about benefits, integrated tech-assisted online education makes learning a joyous, enriching, and interactive experience, while simultaneously promoting critical thinking. “Seeing is believing. Help students to relate better!”. Audiovisual animation and interactive technology-based systems of imparting education not only help students grasp and retain information better but also make learning an enjoyable experience as compared to traditional teaching modules. During COVID 19, many independent research reports suggested that online learning increases retention of information, and takes much less time – if compared to conventional methods of learning. Students retained 25-60% more material when learning online compared to only 8-10% in a classroom.

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Online and digital education has been growing in leaps and bounds in a predominately education conservative country. Interactive and participative modules of learning such as concepts of smart boards, AI and ML-based e-learning, and other technology platforms have already made their presence felt in the academic sector.

In the ‘new normal’, when schools and academic institutions were forced to shut their campuses, online education with virtual classes and hybrid learning approaches started emerging more aggressively like never before. In the higher education space, for example, any students based out of anywhere could now get affordable access to quality faculty and courses from any part of the world, through digital mediums. Professors who often couldn’t visit colleges for lectures for varied reasons could now easily guide students through the web. Online education seamlessly bridged the gap between academicians, scholars, and teachers.

If testimonials are anything to go by, a certain Dr. Amjad Shatarat, Professor at The University of Jordan who is using one such tool called Lark, an enterprise collaboration platform, said, “Online has changed the way of teaching. It enables me to reach out to my students more efficiently and effectively through chat groups, video meetings, voting, and also document sharing, especially during this pandemic. My students also find it is easier to communicate. I will stick to Lark even after coronavirus, I believe traditional offline learning and e-learning can go hand in hand.”

Scholar Yuval Noah Harari in his book ‘21 Lessons for the 21st Century, said how schools continue to focus on traditional rote learning methods and not on skills such as critical thinking and adaptability, which are more important for success in the future. Here digital learning can play its role! However, for online education to sustain in the longer run, proper training, sufficient bandwidth availability, and astute preparations are imperative.

Academicians are realizing this and are finding novel ways to make online education more efficient, streamlined, and competitive to address the learning needs of today’s denizens. Today, Zoom calls, Skype, VCs, webinars, podcasts, audio-books, and virtual classrooms are dynamically transforming learning experiences. Many higher education institutes are offering unique variations in their courses which students can easily access and learn from the comfort of their homes.

Moreover, due to the rising health and safety concerns during the pandemic, many parents preferred to keep their children closer to their homes. This helped academic institutions in smaller cities and towns to attract and retain talent that earlier would have opted to migrate to bigger cities or more reputed institutions. Online teaching pedagogy bridged the gap between quality faculty and best-in-class education.

For instance, Flipped classrooms have become quite prevalent in the United States. Here, students who live on campus, attend the lectures via video and then meet in class to deliberate on an issue or a case.

Thus, in the initial days, when the pandemic gripped the country, nobody knew how things are going to work out eventually with offices and businesses forced to work remotely and school education shifted to digital. Now, we are getting to see how dynamically advanced technologies are coming up and doing away with gaps that earlier seemed to be unsurmountable.

(Dr. Samir Kapur is a visiting faculty in various colleges and has been consulting various communication and management colleges for over 25 years. Dr. Kapur is also the author of the much-celebrated book- “When India Votes”. He is an author and columnist.Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the

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