Coronavirus pandemic impact on education: It’s time for education to get smart, too

So what must the new face of education look like, and more critically, how do we get there?

By Ajeenkya DY Patil

It’s been a week since educational institutions opened back their gates to students in India after nearly 19 months of online learning. Institutions were more than delighted to see the halls full of chatter, classrooms full of learning our grounds full of sporting action. But it would be misleading to say things are ‘as they were.’ It’s a new phase for education in India – one which can pave and define a whole new way of learning should institutions adopt a technology-led, innovation-driven approach to teaching that is available to students in urban and rural areas in equal measure.

The pandemic and subsequent school closures forced our education system to move very quickly to adapt to an unprecedented way of learning. Students learnt quickly to manage their day, manage their timetables from the comfort of their home. The choice was, quite literally, on their fingertips, to log on, to pay attention, to participate in the new virtual classroom setting. This undoubtedly suited some students who had not only the inclination, but the ability and infrastructure to support them. But a vast majority of Indian students who didn’t have access to the tools needed, were at a disadvantage that was not in their control. Nineteen months on, this has created a disparity, an imbalance in both aptitude and results, which lays bare not only the socio-economic divide, but the gaps in the education sector which need to be filled to keep up with the digital world we live in.

The timing however is right. The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, India’s most comprehensive landmark reform policy for education since 1986, is at implementation stage and can be the very instrument of change that is desired. According to an assessment in the Economic and Political Weekly, “It (NEP) provides the ground on which the education structure, objective, and the future of the young minds of India is to be built. The government has remarked that the new education policy marks a notable shift from “what to think” to “how to think” in the digital age (Bhasin 2020). Claiming that the NEP lays foundation for a “new India,”

And right it is, a forward-looking, equal and digital-first approach is the need of the hour, not only to level India’s education sector post pandemic, but in fact to take the lessons from lockdown, to build a future that navigates students in an uncertain, globally competitive and technology-led world there are in.

So what must the new face of education look like, and more critically, how do we get there?

First and foremost, the country must make digital tools accessible to all school-going children. In-school facilities must be evaluated especially in underprivileged schools and universities, and in rural areas. Access to resource centres, digital-libraries and tech-hubs must be constructed for more equal access to the internet and digital tools.

Over lockdown, students had no choice but to take on a more independent approach to their learning output. Now back in school, the habit must be nurtured further to allow a self-directed approach that challenges the age-old pedagogical system. Text-book or memory-based learning must be replaced with more research-driven and experiential learning. Finding solutions rather than a correct answer will enable students to adopt logical and collaborative thinking. Additionally, the tools and techniques used over lockdown to facilitate online learning must not be discarded quite yet. Classwork and homework should be a hybrid of in-class and online tools so that students take the best of both environments (now) available to them.

And it’s not just the learning techniques that are up for assessment. Staff and faculty too must get smarter about their methods, tools and tasks. Artificial Intelligence tools that allow teachers to understand student behaviour and identify students that need more support, must be adopted to allow for a level playing field.

The NEP may facilitate and support the vision laid out here, but the buck stops with educational institutions to inculcate the best of online and classroom learning. It is no doubt that the pandemic exposed the flaws and differences in our education sector, but it has also forced the oldest institution there is, to sit up and take note.

The door to the future of education is wide open – it is now time for us to enter through to the other side to truly, get smarter.

(The author is Chairman, DY Patil Group. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited.)

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