Dr. Parshotam S. Manhas
It would not be possible to predict with exact precision the extinction of Covid 19 at this juncture as it is not showing any respite. But once it will go away, what could be the future of education system and of course, online teaching? Will it be tenable or would there be a switch back to the traditional pedagogy? It would perhaps not be anticipated in its infancy. First, let’s pray for its total extinction from the planet and then the next course of action will be in place. As it was aptly said, “Investment in knowledge never goes wasted”. The perseverance of the teaching faculty/ educators across globe has made online teaching? assessment, evaluation, feedback and synchronous discussion? feasible and rejuvenated the learning capability of the students. An earnest effort on the part of students to make optimum use of technology has started off. The silver lining is that they are now using technology for educative and creative purposes, thereby; giving solace and degree of satisfaction to their parents otherwise they are glued to social media or video games.
The way our Governments, institutions, and people think and function, will radically change perhaps for long term. The higher education sector is undergoing a tectonic shift now. Education technology enthusiasts have been predicting that technology will become the biggest intermediary of teaching-learning processes. The COVID 19 crisis may well change our perspective, it may also teach us about how education needs to change to be able to better prepare our young learners for what the future might hold. This pandemic has in fact made all the educational institutions across the globe to adopt teaching online. Courses / examinations are conducted online, and assignments are submitted through google forms / email. For countries like India, this is good opportunity to strengthen the internet connectivity across rural India. Every village and towns in India should be digitally connected for better interaction between the learners and teachers. This is precisely what our PM Narendra Modi has envisioned regarding digital India. His vision and mission will definitely bear fruit in near future so that there would be a quantum jump in education sector in rural India too and focus will be shifted from advanced institutes like IITs, IIMs and NITs to Universities, Colleges and Schools especially in rural area. Skill oriented courses should be the part of curriculum in science degree programmes so as to create employability and future entrepreneurs.
The teaching faculty need to change their traditional teaching methods and adapt to evolving technology-centred teaching. The faculty should establish themselves as competent individuals who can deliver what the students expect. In a way learning institutes become virtual institutes. Every students home has become the institutes. This will also reduce the demand for the infrastructure of the institute. However, Research labs should function as usual to support research. Research collaboration can go online and be internationalised. Higher education in India needs to be more flexible in curriculum, should be innovative and open for more collaboration. Post Covid 19 is an opportunity to transform the higher education system. Institutes should utilize this opportunity to transform and deliver. Curriculum design, collaborations, skill development and faculty involvement ? all should focus on internationalizing higher education. Today it is Covid 19…we don’t know what lies ahead in future for the million youngsters. Better be prepared.
Given the present scenario and concerns, parents will not allow their kids to go to schools amid uncertainty and let them become breeding grounds for a second wave of cases. And of course many lives lost, a lot of middle class parents may prefer to delay the return of their kids to school or college and the poor parents may not be able to afford sending their off springs back to school for a long time. Fewer kids will go out of town, far from home, to study and fewer will go overseas to study. Every form of international education is currently affected by the crisis and will continue for some time, from study abroad schemes to staff exchanges and internships to transnational collaborative programmes. Universities have been closed and are delivering the content online. Every international conference in higher education has been cancelled or turned into a series of webinars. As Governments are starting to reopen society and restart business, universities/ colleges will also gradually reopen their campuses. Nevertheless, new modes of social distancing will continue to apply for quite some time, affecting on-campus learning in physical spaces, from the classroom to libraries and on-campus student networking places.
Schools are hubs of social activity and human interaction. When schools close, many children and youth miss out on social contact that is essential to learning and development. The first bump, the high-five, the warm handshake, the hug will be gone for a long time. The personal greeting, the smile, the intimacy, the bonhomie have all been away from the class of tomorrow. Friendships, canteen gossips , campus bonding and huddles will be on hold for a while invisible walls will come up, diluting in many ways the fun and euphoria of campus life. Sports too will be in low gear for a while. Gyms, swimming pools, may be even tracks and fields will remain close for sometime more. And when they do open, competitive sports and tournaments will take even longer to be reinstated. The need for social distancing will mean lesser students in each class. So the need for most educational institutions to perhaps work two shifts, maybe even three, everyday. While this will put enormous pressure on the teaching and administrative staff, it may actually be a boon in disguise for the taught. Lots of schools and colleges in India have far too many students packed into small classrooms. A sparse class may actually make for better teaching and class interaction.
Change is on the way but those in pivotal positions will have to ensure that its benefits percolate to the benefit of all especially to rural learners. To enable remote learning, the students have access to both capable computing technology and reliable internet service with uninterrupted power supply. MOOC – massive open online courses – empower teachers and students in remote areas to learn and furnish themselves with the latest knowledge. AI and machine learning will be used to outline a student’s qualities and shortcomings. Individual learning rates and records will be contemplated and computed. There will be a great opportunity to develop new forms of blended education ? a mix of physical and digital learning. The demand will be for more work oriented courses and learning experiences that prepare students for AI, AR, VR, ML, Block chain, Big Data, Cloud, data analytics, voice deployment and more. We will also see a significant thrust towards experiential learning techniques, personalised learning techniques and use of artificial intelligence in education to revolutionise the Indian education system. Experiential learning is being implemented in India in the form of virtual labs, social media platforms, virtual and augmented reality tools, and gamification of learning. Together, all of these are engaging students in ways like never before and are poised to become game changer in the future.
The role of artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) ? real-time 3D experience in education has to play pivotal role in shaping India’s learning space and will be the vital part of future curriculum. The educationists are working on taking a lot of science lessons, even geography to 3-D. A detailed 3D world map and 3-D view of the heart technology will enrich teaching but for that teachers and technologists both will have to persevere and innovate. VR implies a complete immersion experience that shuts out the physical world. Example in site, instead of having a classroom setting being taught about History, students can be taken virtually back in time and see events unfold in front of them.
Lots have to, and will, change in the field of education and learning post Covid 19. We will have to let go of the syllabus as it existed before; we will have to somewhat re-learn the expected order of classroom teaching; we will have to re-think contact hours; we will have to re-visit the notion of everyone having to do the same thing; we will have to re-examine assignments; we will have to recalibrate control and authority; we will have to question assumptions about what students want; we will have to tone down suspicions about student integrity; we will have to huddle together to discuss content; and of course we will have to correct perceptions about students’ access and teachers’ expertise to technology.
Tomorrow will be a new dawn. What we make of it is entirely in our own hands. Change is desirable and inevitable. Change in fact has been forced upon us due to the onset of Covid 19. Whether we use the opportunity to our advantage or let it pass by will decide whether the future will be a better tomorrow or something else.
(The author is Associate Professor of Physics at GDC Samba)
Dr. Parshotam S. Manhas