The novel coronavirus has become a topic of worldwide controversy; countries are questioning practices and economies have been broken, but on the other side of it, nature has been healing. Through this public health emergency, the world has been upended and the ripple effect of what can be considered as a ‘worldwide crisis’ has spread far and wide. One such evident effect has been the upheaval of students due to the disruption of education in the form of school closures. But can we definitively attribute this disruption of education solely to being an after-effect of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Various nations have been recently trying to get a grip on the outbreak, attempting to ensure the safety of its citizens. Many of which are left with no choice but to stop public gatherings, which includes those in educational institutions. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, at least 1.5 billion learners have been disrupted worldwide by COVID-19; a disruption in education caused due to social isolation, or at least its subset that can be represented by a lack of facilities and technology to enable distance education.
We currently live in an age of information and technology; the internet and its digital medium have become a major part of our lives. Yet haven’t we been less than proactive in our approach to revolutionize education with the latest technology and this digital medium? Even with the growth of online courses, traditional forms of education still hold the helm of our pedagogical approaches. Therefore, it would not be a long shot to say that the digital divide in education has been growing deeper. This could be due to the rapid advancement of the technological front, but also due to the adoption process in education, which has been sluggish in comparison.
“With a growing inclination towards online education and modern education practices, the ed-tech industry as well as the online education industry stand a chance at revolutionizing education as we know it”
More than 400 million Indians will have access to smartphones in 2020, according to projections by statista. com. With so many individuals having access to internet services and the availability of mobile applications, the growth of digital learning should have been exponential. Unfortunately, even though the time for online learning could not have been better, even with a surplus of education resources and study material, online courses have not made big enough strides for it to be considered as a viable alternative to traditional education. Has this been because of our lack of resolve to transition to new educational approaches? Furthermore, in light of the current coronavirus pandemic, a polarising shadow has been cast on the nation’s social classes, and the opportunities for equitable and inclusive education have been deconstructed.
As of the past year, the Indian Government had planned to enable broadband access in all villages by 2020. It is an ongoing process, but does it have the backing to make it seem reliable? The internet has almost become a basic human right, aiding the transfer of information and the opening of doors to many. Yet, outside of metropolitan cities and urban clusters, few have access to this promising resource. In fact, in rural areas, many students lack the connectivity and hardware to learn remotely. But the internet isn’t the only source of transmission of information. In China, 120 million people got access to learning materials through live television broadcasts. This isn’t to say that every rural area has access to live television or to say that every village has electricity, but just to keep in mind that the options for making learning accessible don’t need to be restricted to schools or the internet, although both have made education a more achievable goal.
Could a greater motivation to reinvent education by keeping up with modern technology and the latest pedagogical practices have prevented this disruption? Digital solutions have been an option in education for a long time now; ed-tech has been a growing industry in India, but its adaptability has been staggered by the dominance of traditional setups and approaches. However, with a growing inclination towards online education and modern education practices, the ed-tech industry, as well as the online education industry, stand a chance at revolutionizing education as we know it.
Even with its current reach, the viability of online education poses a great opportunity to improve the standards of education on a national level. Online classes enable a uniform standard of education and also present the hope for greater diversity and personalization of learning. Additionally, it helps tackle the drawbacks of students having to congregate in an immobile structure, which includes the many hours wasted on travelling and being stuck in traffic, and the reliance placed on the absolute presence of a subject teacher for many classes.
Maybe it’s both the sides of the coins that have shown an unmotivated approach to invest in technology. Schools and parents must consider the importance of technology in education’s future and its viability as a solution to ongoing challenges. While the coronavirus may be currently considered as the cause of disruption in education, it could perhaps be the motivation that spurs both education professionals and parents to increase their investment in technology as an enabler to education.
Ms. Lina Ashar, Founder
Lina Ashar is an author, entrepreneur and educationist. She grew up in Australia but came to India in 1987 and became a teacher in Mumbai. However, she was appalled by the straight-jacketed approach of the education system, which ‘robbed’ children of their childhood. Her experiences as a teacher are what set her on the journey to transform the face of education in India. Today, she is the founder of two successful school chains; the Kangaroo Kids Education Limited (KKEL) and Billabong High International Schools (BHIS) and has authored two books on parenting; ‘Who do you think you’re kidding?’ and ‘Drama Teen.'