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BW Businessworld

Dawn Of Digital Learning

The Covid pandemic has seen educational institutions take to online teaching in a big way. Is this the way forward? By Upasana Sharan

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There has been a paradigm shift in the education sector due to the global pandemic. The teaching-learning process has transformed from the conventional chalk and duster mode to the online mode in the form of virtual classrooms. The role of technology has grown exponentially.

The Coronavirus outbreak, which has spread in around 191 countries, is continuing to severely disrupt industries across the board, one of which is education. As schools, colleges and universities remain fully or partially shut, it is estimated that 90 per cent of the world’s learners, totaling an astronomical 1.6 billion people, are being affected by this crisis. The statistics for India alone is 320 million.

The Covid-19 crisis is forcing global experimentation with remote teaching. Online learning is a sensible choice in the present scenario of lockdown. It may serve as a good solution to disruption in education.

Overcoming disruption

The previously booming education system has found a new way to continue the teaching-learning process. To ensure seamless learning, it has now gone virtual. It was already there but the intensity has increased, so as to overcome the disruption in teaching.

At a recent BW Businessworld webinar on the subject, Raghav Gupta, Managing Director – India and APAC, Coursera, said the most important thing Covid-19 is telling us is that we will need a new paradigm of education in terms of both access and quality to be delivered in the country. “When the situation starts to stabilise and normalise, we will definitely not be 100 per cent online. The question then is  whether we will go back to 20 per cent continuing to stay online and what that 20 per cent can contribute.”

From classroom to computer

The way education is imparted has changed radically in the last couple of years and more so in the last few months. Being physically present in a classroom is no more the only learning option — not with the growth of the Internet and new technologies, at least. Nowadays, everyone has access to quality education wherever and whenever one wants, as long as there is access to a computer. It’s time for a new era — the revolution of online education.

Dr Anil Sahasrabudhe, Chairman, All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) said that we have learnt many things during this pandemic and subsequent lockdown, things which were possible earlier but we were not doing them. “For example, online education was not a key thing. We were always in the face-to-face mode, most of the time. However, with the creation of Swayam Portal, where more than 2,500 courses have been on-boarded, more than 1 crore students in 147 countries are using it. But despite all this, despite UGC and AICTE making a regulation that 50 per cent of the course work can be taken from the Swayam programme and credits can be stored in the individual’s account in universities, very few universities have taken this forward,” said. 

According to him, there are challenges of various kinds. But nevertheless, during the last couple of months, with the entire country in lockdown, most universities had no choice but to transform themselves and switch to online teaching. “Those who were well prepared, they had a very smooth transition,” he said.

Universities of future

The skepticism around education through the Internet is understandable. For most people, the idea of leaving behind the conventional classroom for the intangible thing called the Internet is not easily understandable.

While discussing the universities of the future, C. Raj Kumar, Dean of the Jindal Global Law School pointed out that a Covid-like crisis makes people think that the future will be fundamentally different from what it is today. “But while we are facing a global pandemic and do think that there will be certain things different from what they are today, there will be a lot more which will remain same even in the future. And so, the most important task of what a university does will remain intact,” he said. 

According to him, a significant part of what a university does is to provide an inspiring ecosystem of learning for young people and that would not change. Besides, a university is a harbinger of ideas through faculty members pursuing teaching and research and that will not change, he added. 

Kumar went on to say that what will change is that there will be a stronger emphasis on technology in multiple forms whereby the methods and delivery of education will go through a dramatic transformation which is already happening.

“There is a big challenge in our country. When we look at the data, only 8 per cent of Indian households have both Internet and computer with electricity. So, the most important thing to do is to make substantial investment in physical infrastructure and ensure electricity and Internet availability across rural and urban India,” he added.   


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