Covid crisis must Transform India’s Education and Skilling sectors

Raj Nehru

There is an old saying that, “Never let a good crisis go waste”. It is an unprecedented situation, which the world of education has not witnessed before. The schools, colleges, universities and other professional institutions all are closed sine die. Millions of students are interned into their homes. First and foremost, challenge before the education system is to connect with the students and resume teaching and training activity through alternate means. Digital education has the ability to fill in the gap, provided the IT infrastructure with the students, broadband connectivity and digital teaching platforms are available.
The Way Forward: Ensure Business Continuity
University Grants Commission Regulation of Minimum Standards 2003 guidelines must be reviewed and compulsion of 180 days for class/ laboratory training should be relaxed so that online activities can be increased by the institutions. A committee of experts must be constituted to make a Digital Learning Policy. The virtual laboratories, simulations, contact classes, group learnings, project-based activities must be incorporated in the new policy.The regulators should consider making digital learning flexible and not restrict it to 20 percent.
The examination ordinances may require some changes, wherein institutions can opt for either online or offline examinations or a blend of both. Reduction of duration of examination can be achieved by introducing open book system and project-based assessments. Shifting to digital platforms would require institutions to assess data security and data privacy as well.
The Government needs to formulate a plan for all schools, small or big, private or government to have “Fusion Model of Learning” where regular, open and distance models see convergence and integration and incentivise teachers and institutions for a quick successful transition.
The Government must also explore how Door darshan can become an mode of school, higher education and skill based learning in the current situation, to address the challenges of connectivity and those people who are unable to access internet.
The social distancing will put huge pressure on academic infrastructure, almost reducing the number of students in each class by half,thus, affecting the overall cost of education. The educational institutions may face a fiscal challenge as their revenue collections dip and hence Government intervention is required to protect the existing education ecosystem.
The National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), Sector Skill Councils (SSC), State Skill Missions and Skill institutions will be required to devise a new strategy with an aim to ‘Reprioritize Skills’ to align to the new demand and supply requirements.
The regulators need to make relevant changes in the Apprenticeship Act to accommodate online/ blended/ virtual learning.
Every university or institution and NSDC, SSC must call their Board of Studies, Academic Councils/ Skill Councils to review the curriculum for all the programmes and Qualification packs and map the digital and virtual content where possible to make the overall course structure more blended in nature and also map its suitability for delivery – online, virtual or blended learning methods. Learning must become, Anywhere, Anytime and for Anyone.
The Government and organisations need to explore ways to help the emerging GIG workers by introducing suitable policies and schemes.The companies may relook at the terms of employment wherein regular, part time, flexible jobs are integrated with GIG jobs. The compensation can be planned accordingly.The GIG workforce must be included in the social security and healthcare schemes of the Government.The existing schemes of the Government of India (Start-up, Jan Dhan, Micro Financing etc.) must be reviewed to incorporate informal workers.
The Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE) and NSDC need to bring a special and differentiated focus on the start-up and entrepreneurship training that promotes livelihood at sub-district levels. Farmer Producer Company model (FPC) is the need of the hour. Access to small credit and unhindered market connect can rejuvenate the local agro-based livelihood opportunities. A Cooperative Corporate model that encompasses various interwoven opportunities to create an attractive and satisfying rural living assumes importance in engaging rural youth meaningfully. A rural leadership programme must be started by the MSDE for all the youngsters in rural belts incorporating traditional Bhartiya practices with value- based leadership and digital and financial modelling that helps to develop home based enterprises.
Ministry of Skill Development should change the current training norms and introduce a new norm where dual mode of Industry integrated skilling is incentivised. The new norms should allow any industry to partner will local Missions and enrol its new joining workmen into a specific skill development program through a virtual skilling model as per defined hours.
The MSDE, NSDC and SSCs need to review the Common Norms in wake of incorporating the digital and virtual options.
At the school levels, Create communities of parents, teachers, students to ensure regular human interactions, enable social caring measures, and address possible psychosocial challenges that students may face when they get high exposure to internet.
In order to make digital transition successful, the teachers and trainers need to be trained on new and advanced features of digital technologies that helps them in customising their learning resources for digital platforms. The teachers need to be oriented on the fundamentals and principles of Work From Home (WFH)
The government will have to play a big role in making sure the internet speed and connectivity issues are addressed and make provisions to provide free access to the students and teaching communities to 4G network and policy for getting students with android phones, tablets, laptop computers free of cost or on easy instalments,which can be recovered from them once their job or livelihood starts.
The SSCsshould also explore available digital contents with various countries and make it available in local Indian languages.
All learners need to be skilled now for a lifelong learning process. The curriculum at all levels must include emotional intelligence skills, adaptability, embracing challenge, collaborative thinking, cross cultural learning, creativity and critical thinking skills besides digital skills.
In the short term even the quarantine period of migratory labourers and interested people can be used to digital upskilling. The schools and colleges converted to quarantine centres can be also used for skilling and training,
The Centre and State Governments should constitute a task force comprising all stakeholders to assess, review and recommend changes in policies, procedures that can help nation to handle the post-COVID scenario, that promotes appreciation for an interconnected world where we see everyone as a part of one common human family and work for the betterment of mankind in the spirit of “Sarve Bhavantu Sukhina”. In order to decide what kind of education we need post COVID 19, Bharat has to decide what kind of India we want. The post Covid will see millions of overseas education enthusiasts reluctant to go abroad for higher studies in wake of the devastation that has been witnessed in major developed countries consequently a huge demand for a good quality education will emerge in India
Technology will become an intermediary of future learning. This will require a big paradigm shift amongst regulators, educators, students, parents and educational institutions where the need for new model of blended education is recognised from a learners perspective, where the teaching moves away from delivering content to enhancing learning.
This will require to integrate the new technologies of Artificial Intelligence, Cloud, Big Data and IOT to maximise learning experiences and collaborate with technology specialist to help design content and new pedagogies keeping the science of learning in mind, The good thing is that COVID has brought a phenomenal opportunity, that business world had already embraced much before the COVID 19 and now Education has to make sure that this crisis is not let go waste.
(The author is Vice Chancellor, Shri Vishwakarma Skill University and Managing Director,
Haryana Skill Development Mission)