Parshotam S. Manhas
“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest”
The worldwide lockdown due to the spread of COVID-19 has forced educational institutes to shut and rendered above 90% of the world’s student population to restrict to their homes. The closure has placed unprecedented challenges on Governments, institutions, teachers, parents and guardians around the world. Many countries are continuing to handle this disruption by deploying different modes of e-learning. In almost all countries, teachers and school administrators are encouraged to continue the communication with learners by delivering virtual live lessons or Massive Open Online Course (MOOC).
The Digital India initiative of the Government is emerging as a vital instrument for solving the present crisis due to Covid-19.The move to remote learning has been enabled by several online tech stacks such as Google Classroom, Blackboard, Zoom/Google Meet, Coursera, Edxand Microsoft Teams, all of which play an important role in this transformation. With the development of ICT in education, online video-based micro-courses, e-books, simulations, models, graphics, animations, quizzes, games, and e-notes are making learning more accessible, engaging, and contextualized.
The J&K Govt is also striving hard to cope with Covid-19 to ensure that no student shall remain aloof to e-learning and complete the curriculum by plugging in to the e-content and discussion forum through flipped mode of teaching -a move from teacher-centric education to student-centric education. The Higher Education Department in this earnest has already initiated the process of online teaching through different learning management system (LMS) e.g., Google classroom, Google Hangouts, virtual labs, private cloud.
The present scenario has given a fillip to experiment with online learning and deploy new tech tools to make education delivery feasible to students who can’t go to campuses. It’s a chance to be more diligent and inventive while developing professional skills and knowledge through online learning and assessment. The accoutrements required for online teaching are mainly a functional computer/tablet preferably with windows7 onwards configuration, a stable internet connection via optical fibre with minimum data rate of 5 MB, a video conferencing software like Google Hangouts, WebEx. A well configured built-in microphone or microphone with headset to ensure the dialogue between teacher and students, and a compatible webcam to develop a real human rational ship.
As the digital learning acceleration continues, it also throws light on the digital divide in India. Students from remote districts and those belonging to poor communities lack the infrastructure and the means to reap the benefits of online learning. Besides many of them may not be that well equipped with technology know-how to avail of remote learning. There should also be given due considerations for students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Greater penetration of telecom network and rolling out 4G/5G services will give a huge impetus to this sector.
We have been talking about virtual classrooms and various online tools today to make the engagement between the teacher and students close to a classroom type experience. These tools can also aid in organising teachers and parent meetings, staff/management meetings and can save both time and cost. Our Prime Minister Narendra Modi has recently interacted with world leaders through video conferencing during SAARC, G-20 and NAM summits due to Covid-19 underlying the importance that time has come to expedite digital technology in education sector too so as to cater the growing needs of the students across continents and make teaching more attractive and vibrant for future generations to come irrespective of any hiccups.
Looking at this challenge of colleges and schools being shut, Government of India, as well as State Governments and private players have regularly been publishing information on various initiatives undertaken by MHRD, Department of Technical Education, NCERT and others to support and benefit learners. A few of the initiatives are: SWAYAM: an indigenous online courses platform, SWAYAM PRABHA: the 32 Educational DTH Channels to telecast curriculum-based courses, UG/PG MOOCs for non-technology archived courses, e-PG Pathshala for dissemination of online content in social sciences, arts, fine arts, humanities, natural and mathematical sciences, NDL (National Digital Library)-a virtual repository of learning resources with a single window search facility, BAADAL: cloud for academic purpose, CEC-UGC YouTube channel for online video lectures, e-Vidwan-a database of experts who provide information to peers and prospective collaborators, Virtual Labs for web-based simulation environment to perform experiments, NEAT-a Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) between AICTE and Education Technology Companies of India to enhance the employability skills among students, Talk to a Teacher, Spoken Tutorial: an online discussion forum, FOSSEE (Free and Open Source Software for Education) for promoting the use of open source software in educational institutions, e-Yantra for hands-on application of mathematics, computer science, and engineering education using robotics, QR (Quick Response)-to access digital resources, Ask a Question: ask questions through an online forum/interactive live session, e-Acharya: a respository of NMEICT e-content, e-Kalpa-online courses on design learning, GIAN-a global outreach.
The Government of India as well as State Governments, through their various ministries/departments, have created infrastructure to deliver e-education. These include National Knowledge Network (NKN) for high speed network, National Project on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL) for creating course contents in engineering and physical sciences, National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology (NMEICT) for higher education institutions, National Academic Depository (NAD) to facilitate digital issuance, storage, access and verification of academic awards issued by academic institutions among others.
Basic requirements like robust education delivery platforms, IT infrastructure, PC/Desktop/Mobile for end-delivery and assessment tools have been planned and more improvement is underway. Further, the use of technology in teaching or recruitment will lead to a new era wherein the best of faculty will be available from across the globe to students.
Switch over from the physical infrastructure to improved internet infrastructure of academic institutions due to COVID 19 is in the offing. Review meetings, parent-teacher meetings, subject conferences will be location agnostic. It is possible that in times to come, a student may be allowed to carry out courses from any College/ University based on quality of teacher and fees for the course irrespective of his location and finally will get degree from the home university where he/she got registered or from the university where he has taken maximum courses, resulting in a balance of economics of good education.
For all this to be a reality, a drastic change in thought process is required in the mind-set of policy makers, authorities, students and specially educationists. Faculty training, accreditation parameters, criteria need reconsideration. All these steps will help strengthen the country’s digital learning infrastructure in the long run. Thus, with the right infrastructure and policies in place, we would be better prepared to handle Covid-19 like pandemic by observing the standard operating procedure (SOP) of stay at home, wear mask, maintain social distancing and personal hygiene.
(The author is Associate Professor of Physics at GDC, Samba.)
Parshotam S. Manhas