By Naveed Anjum, IDA
The COVID-19 crisis has pushed the education sector into a battlefield kind of situation where colleges and Universities are battling for staying relevant in the race of online education. The nationwide lockdown announced in March resulted in closing down of ~1000 universities and ~40,000 colleges across India. The students have been staying back home and are currently undertaking online classes. According to KPMG report, the lockdown has impacted ~3.75 crore students enrolled in and ~14 lakh faculty employed by the system. The report also highlighted that close to 1.44 crore students were supposes to appear for their school leaving exams this year and close to 50 lakh of these students will be looking to enrol in a higher education institution in this academic session. Now this all depends on the completion of the current academic session. With such a huge number of students’ career on stake, the COVID-19 has really challenged the very foundation of Indian education system.
COVID-19 has forced universities to suspend physical classrooms and have been pushed towards adapting to online classes. India with its diverse social strata, the shift to online classes has been highly contested. As the private universities have seen a smooth transition towards online classes, the public sector universities have struggled the most. The reason for this is that most of the universities are located in the rural areas and with hundreds of affiliated colleges along with students coming from weaker sections of the society.
However, the most contrasting aspect this pandemic has highlighted is that it is the faculty that is grappling with the new ways managing this sudden transition to online education, while students are comfortable clinging on to their mobile phones and computer screens. These teachers, over the course of time, have also shown an increase in the adoption of technology thanks to COVID-19.
All the universities have put on so many efforts on adapting to the technology and have realised that technology is going to be the major enabler of education system in the coming future. The universities have already started the use of various Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). The private universities have been conducting online classes through webinars or zoom sessions depending upon their IT infrastructure and the high speed internet. They have also been using the services of various Edtech platforms. Apart from these, there are many platforms created to enable online education in India. These are supported by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), and the department of technical education. There also are initiatives like e-PG Pathshala (e-content), SWAYAM (online courses for teachers), and NEAT (enhancing employability). Other online platforms aim to increase connectivity with institutions, and accessibility to content. These are utilised for course materials and classes, and running of online modules. They include the National Project on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL), National Knowledge Network, (NKN), and National Academic Depository (NAD), among others.
The Government of India also announced the launch PM eVIDYA programme that will help students gain access to educational content at home. One of the main components of the new programme is the ‘One Class One Channel’ initiative where classes will be conducted on dedicated channels in the television. Twelve DTH channels will be dedicated to the programme — one channel for each class from 1 to 12. The other component in the PM eVIDYA package is the DIKSHA portal (One Nation, One Digital Platform) which will provide quality educational content to researchers and students.
With all these initiatives taken, the online education in the country is gaining prominence and the future for eLearning seems bright. The universities have also shown keen interest to invest more on technology so that they can’t be left behind in the process of Education 4.0. ‘Innovate or Evaporate’ has been the call and the necessity to introspect on the nature of these platforms and how students are taught using different online tools and methods, while keeping accessibility and equity challenges in mind. There is also the need to understand all this across academic disciplines and institutions.