The pandemic and online learning -The challenges ahead - 2

/ Guest Column / Tuesday, 05 October 2021 18:47

By: Rahamanuddin Md Moinam
The sudden and dramatic shift away from the physical classroom in many parts across the globe has left many wondering and guessing the next move-whether online learning will be persisted with post-pandemic or should it be discarded with and dumped in the garbage of history as just a stop –gap arrangement to see off the pandemic.Even more important and palpable effect will be the tectonic shift and impact on the worldwide education market.Our old wisdom suggests that we build on our resources and experiences of the past and we are here reminded of the German proverb Das Kindmitdem Badeausschütten” Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater”, don’t reject the favourable along with the unfavourable.
Even before the arrival of the global pandemic there was already a high growth and adoption of educational technology. Some rough estimate put the globaledtech investments touching a high of US$18.66 Billion in 2019 and the overall market for online education is projected to peak at $350 Billion by 2025.Be it the language apps, virtual tutoring, video conferencing, or online learning software there has been a tremendous boost since the onset of the pandemic.In response to the spurt in demand many online learning platforms are also offering free access to their services and many MNCs are lining up to join the gold-rush.
In our own backyard a home-grown start-up Bangalore based BYJU’S ,an Edtech and tutoring firm founded only in 2011 has become the world’s most highly valued edtech company.Its THINK and LEARN app has seen a 200% leap in the number of new students using the product according to Mrinal Mohit, the company’s chief operating officer. Other learning platforms like the Vedantu, started by threeIITian friends,Vidyakul,with a mission to bridge the gap between tutors and students ,Unacdemy, Doubtnut, Khan Academy ,Udemy, to name only a few, have etched their own marks.
Similarly in our neighbourhood China,Shenzhen based,Tencent classroom founded in 2013, has been extensively used after the Chinese government directed a quarter of a billion full time students to resume studies through online platforms, which resulted in the largest online movement in the history of education with approximately 81% of k-12 students attending classes via the Tencent k-12 online school in Wuhan.Likewise in South Korea students are responding to roll calls from their teachers online.
Many other companies have joined the fray to dip their hands in the goldmine of online learning. Lark, a Singapore based collaboration suite initially developed by Byte Dance, have started offering teachers and students unlimited video conferencing time, auto-translation capabilities, real-time co-editing and smart calendar scheduling among many features.It has ramped up its global server infrastructure and engineeringcapabalitiesto ensure reliable connectivity with the intention of providing a one-stop shop for teachers and students. Alibaba’s Distance learning solution, Ding Talk is also preparing a similar influx by tapping Alibaba cloud to support large scale network
While some still believe that the unplanned and the rapid move to online learning, without any training ,with little preparation and insufficient bandwidth might result in poor user experience which is not conducive to sustained growth, there are still others who believe that we have gone forward and we cannot turn the clock back and the consequence will be a hybrid model of education with significant benefits. Wang Tao ,Vice President of Tencent Cloud and Vice President of Tencent Education says “I believe that the integration of information technology in education will be further accelerated and that online education will eventually become an integral component of school education”
Successful transitions have occurred in places like Zhejiang University where it has managed to get more than 5,000 courses online just 2 weeks into the online transition using “Ding talk ZJU”. Similarly the Imperial college ,London started offering a course on the science of corona virus which has now become the most enrolled course in the Courseera. Dr Amjad,at the University of Jordan, who has been using Lark to teach students says”It has changed the way of my teaching.It enables me to reach out to my students more efficiently and effectively. I will stick to Lark even after the coronavirus.I believe traditional offline learning and e-learning can go hand in hand .
Effectiveness Of Online Learning?
For those who has access to the right technology, there is evidence thatlearning can be more effective in a number of ways. Someresearch shows that on an average students retain 25-60 % more material when learning compared to only 8-10 % in a classroom. This is because students are able to learnlearnfaster through online; E-learning requires 40-60% less time to learn than in a traditional classroom setting as students can learn at their own pace, going back and re-reading, skipping,or accelerating through concepts as they desire. Studies have shown that children extensively use their senses to learn; hence making learning fun and effective through use of technology is important and online learning allows integration of games which can increase engagement and motivation among young learners.Moreover, another advantage is the flexibility factor –anytime from anywhere.
It is evident that the global pandemic has disrupted an education system which was already losing its relevance and looking for new directions.In his Path-breaking book 21 lessons for the 21stcentury , historian and an Israeli public intellectual Yuval Noah Harari,outlines how schools continue to focus on traditional skills and rote learning, rather than on skills such as critical thinking and adaptability, which will be more important for success in future.The move to online learning may be just the catalyst to create a new, more effective method of educating students as the saying goes there is a silver lining in every cloud. The only worry is the hurried nature of forcible transition which might have hindered its goal.There are still others who plan to make online learning work and make it a part of the New- Normal.
The challenges with online learning, though, is the consequent Digital Divide that has emerged as a major stumbling block to its success. Students without a good smartphone/technology and reliable internet access is at the receiving end of this Digital Divide. The digital gap/Divide may be seen across countries or within countries or for that matter between income brackets within countries.To illustrate the point, according to OECD data 95% of students in Switzerland, Norway and Austria have a computer to use for their schoolwork while it is only 34% for students in Indonesia. The figure from Africa is even morestartling, asonly 11% of learners in sub-saharan Africa have a household computer and only 18% have household internet while it is 50% of learners globally for computer ownership and 57% for access to internet.
Here in our own country a recentreport on the latest National Statistical Organisation (NSO) survey shows the stark digital divide across States, cities and villages, and across income groups. In India, only one in ten households have a computer — whether a desktop, laptop or tablet.Almost 25% of all homes have Internet facilities, accessed via a fixed or mobile network using any device, including smartphones.Most of the Internet-enabled homes are located in cities, where 42% have Internet access. In rural India, however, only 15% are connected to the internet.The national capital has the highest Internet access, with 55% of homes having such facilities.Himachal Pradesh and Kerala are the only other States where more than half of all households have Internet. Odisha is at the bottom with only one in ten homes having Internet.
There is less than 20% Internet penetration, even in States with software hubs such as Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Kerala shows the least inequality with more than 39% of the poorest rural homes having Internet, in comparison to 67% of the richest urban homes.Himachal Pradesh also fares well, with 40% of the lowest rural quintile having Internet. Assam shows the starkest inequality, with almost 80% of the richest urban homes having the Internet access denied to 94% of those in the poorest rural homes in the State.
Government Initiatives in the country to improve digital connectivity and bridge the divide–
National Education Policy, 2020 aims at making “India a global knowledge superpower” by introducing several changes from the school to college level in the Indian education system with special emphasis on digital education.The Centre has directed State Education Departments to map the online access available to all their students in order to adequately plan curriculum and teaching methods that can reach such students. DIKSHA (Digital Infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing) is the national platform for school education available for all states and the central government for grades 1 to 12 and was launched in September 2017.As part of PM eVidya announced under the Atmanirbhar Bharat programme, DIKSHA is the ‘one nation; one digital platform’ for school education in India. Swayam Prabha TV Channel is to support and reach those who do not have access to the internet. Online Massive Open Online Course MOOC courses relating to NIOS (grades 9 to 12 of open schooling) are uploaded on SWAYAM portal; around 92 courses have started and 1.5 crore students are enrolled. ShikshaVani, DAISY by NIOS for differently-abled, e-PathShala- Radio broadcasting is being used for children in remote areas who are not online (especially for grades 1 to 5).
Solutions- Online education as a common good:
The Centre and the state governments should start making access to technology universal and more feasible in the public education system. Also, as part of Corporate Social Responsibility, private players can involve tech-based organisations to make e-resources accessible and available to students, especially in government and low-income private schools. The definition of the right to education needs to expand and promote online education so that it addresses the importance of connectivity and access to knowledge and information. Digital innovation provides a remarkable opportunity for the democratisation of education. However, there is a need to encourage conditions that give frontline educators autonomy and flexibility to act collaboratively.
We need to promote and ensure digital literacy among the masses, primarily uninterrupted Internet connectivity and mobile network signals in rural areas. The implications of school closures in the country are not just about education; they are manifold. An unprecedented social disaster can be avoided if more entities - Government and private - pitch into short-term and long-term futures of the children in this digital divide.In India school is not just a medium to deliver instruction but also about health and hygine as the mid day meals delivered through schools would amply demonstrate.. Inclusion of virtual vocational training, virtual labs, skill development courses and Developing quality e-content in local languages are also part of the challenges ahead.
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