How Education Sector Will Adapt to Post COVID-19 Times

With the world going into lockdown many services came to a halt. Schools and colleges were among the ones that got hit hard by the COVID-19 virus. For a brief amount of time education stopped altogether, but with every passing day of this never-ending lockdown, a common question started to appear in each head around the world- is the world going to be a year late in its education? A year worth of education might seem small in a person’s context but is definitely not worth ignoring when we take into account the knowledge that 7.8 billion people could have gained in this year. The pandemic has resulted in schools to shut down indefinitely all across the world. Globally, around 1.2 billion young children are out of the classrooms. A pause in education is more fatal to humanity if not less than the COVID-19 virus. Understanding the value of education, schools, colleges, and other educational institutions started to make a shift to the online world. This was a probable solution to the problem but is it really achievable? With almost negligible infrastructure and zero experience for online teaching and learning, this was a rather bumpy ride for both the students and teachers.

Private schools and their students did not face much difficulty as compared to government schools. According to a report published by Oxfam India, 80% of the government school students didn’t have the resources to join online classes. Even with the availability of public Wi-Fi and low-cost data, these students were helpless because the Internet isn’t a concern for someone who doesn’t even have access to smartphone or laptop to connect with. Most of the students enrolled in government schools nationwide are those who come from economically weaker sections of the society which was most hit by the pandemic. The daily wage workers who decided to leave for their villages during pandemic along with their families caused a major setback in their child`s education as there were even fewer facilities available in the villages. The governments all over the world tried their best to deal with this problem but this was not something that can be dealt with on such a short notice and that too at the time of pandemic.

Besides the regular classes, the government found it really difficult to conduct national entrance exams, especially the pen and paper tests like NEET. The exams got rescheduled time and again which not only delayed the new session but also added extra pressure to students. Although the exams were conducted keeping in mind the safety norms, people questioned that why don`t they have an alternative for pen and paper exam in the 21st century?

Now, when this everlasting pandemic is just about to end (as many vaccines have been developed and approved and are being given to people), another question that arises is whether the world is ready to go back offline and do the parents and teachers want to go back to offline education? With this rapid shift away from the classroom in many parts of the world, people are wondering whether the adoption of online learning will continue to persist after the pandemic is over, and how such a shift would influence the worldwide education market. Even after reopening of schools in few parts of country parents are still ambiguous about sending their kids to school. Most parents were of the view that they will send their kids to school after the vaccine is available in the Indian market. But since the government of India has announced that the vaccine currently being given in the country cannot be used by people below the age of 18, parents are clueless about sending their kids and risking them to the virus. While the school authorities are convincing parents to send their kids in view of upcoming board exams, parents are not sure about school`s safety guidelines and their implementations. Teachers also fear a fall in board results this year because of lack of writing practice given to students due to the pandemic.

Also, there are people who are more focussed on switching to online classes entirely. No doubt some services like education are easier to provide on an online platform apart from saving a lot of time spent during commuting between home and school, it also gives us an option to study from anywhere and at any time and from any teacher no matter how far they are. They can attend the lecture according to their own pace and can replay it as many time as they wish. Students can conveniently join courses and programs of different universities along with their school classes to enhance their skills. Many things like conducting tests, taking notes, and tracking progress are a lot easier. Also, since most of the jobs in the market today are technology based and are using computers in some way or other online education can provide better career preparation to the students.

The global investments were about US$18.66 billion in 2019 in the education technology sector. So the Ed-Tech sector was already witnessing a high growth even before the pandemic. The overall market for online education was expected to reach $350 Billion by 2025. Whether it is virtual learning, language learning, video conferencing platforms, or online learning software, there has been a significant rise in usage since COVID-19.Online learning can really be the next big thing in the education sector but only if we know how to use it properly. The current platforms don’t meet the requirements of both the teacher and the student. Apart from good connectivity, teachers should be able to know if the student is really attentive in the class or if he has just opened another window in the background. Limited resources, poor network connections, and lack of knowledge and respect towards online learning are some of the major barriers that we need to get over.

But completely taking education in an online mode will not only harm a student`s health but it will also hinder their communication and public speaking skills. Speaking on an online platform is different from speaking in front of a live audience and students should have this experience. In addition, how can we neglect the peer bonding, the student-teacher relationship and tiffin sharing which makes our school days cherishable? All this is possible only in a classroom.

We cannot also neglect those rural students who neither have electricity nor have resources to attend online classes, switching completely to online education will result in a knowledge gap between government schooled and private schooled students. The pandemic has also pushed many into poverty, there are families who are not even able to afford a single meal and in such difficult situations we cannot expect students to attend classes. “Education for all” is something we need to focus on while making such a big change in the education sector. And this is where the government comes into play. The government is supposed to provide resources and Internet connections to those who can’t afford them. Today, online courses are not given equal value compared to offline courses, and if we plan to digitize education this has to change. To change this, the government will have to take the first step. An immunization (COVID-19 vaccination) program where people with an online degree are given equal if not more value than the one with an offline degree can be a positive step in this direction. If the government starts recognizing the value of online learning, the day where both forms of learning are treated equally won’t be far from then.

A system which has a right balance of online and offline education is something we are looking for. Students who are willing to join offline classes should be allowed to do so while following appropriate measures to avoid the contact of virus. Those children who are suffering from chronic breathing disorders or diabetes or any other disease which makes them more vulnerable to virus should have the facility to study from home. Another thing which can make digital education more reachable to students is by telecasting it on TV. Unlike Internet, a television set is more accessible to even in small villages. This will also make education more affordable. But whichever mode of education is chosen, the government needs to continue investing in learning today so that the future of the world is better prepared to fight any such pandemic or crisis.

-Priyanshi Mishra (Freelancer)

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