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  • Writer's pictureAtalbihari Baddar

How lockdowns during COVID19 pandemic has allowed Digital Transformation in Indian Education System

Updated: Jan 29, 2021

The primary schooling function in India is offline as the country lacks infrastructure to support the digital transformation process across Schools, Teachers, Parents and Students. The infrastructure deficiency includes technology savvy teachers, robust internet connectivity, and availability of devices with teachers and students, professional apps and sites as an example.

After a nationwide lockdown declared by Government of India in March 2020, more than 15 lakh institutions were closed and about 25 crore of school students were not able to go to their schools.

From April 2020, as concept of online learning being necessary and unavoidable, all schools across the country have been scheduling classes on a daily basis. All started with swift actions like providing feedback forms to parents to conducting weekly reviews, the situation has paved way for Digital Transformation in Indian education system.

Image by Jagrit Parajuli from Pixabay

Story of Teachers, one of the COVID19 worriers

Looking at long repeated lockdowns, a thought of saving academic year of the students pushed schooling system to move online, literally without formally trained staff. The teaching staff across streams, across age groups, took it as an opportunity, fought as a battle to win.

They arranged devices, whiteboards, jugaad tripods, holders, webcams and internet connectivity. In parallel they created lesson plans, PPTs, assignments using Google forms, academic planning in co-ordination with other school coordinators.

It wasn’t a simple task considering the primary barrier, lack of digital proficiency and infrastructure. They jumped in the saga with a motive to keep and rightly referred as one of the COVID19 warriors.

Story of Students and Parents

A father’s day in Pune start with sharing the internet connection via mobile hotspot with desktop computer used by his son, a class 9 student. Mobile is used in parallel by his daughter, a class 5 student.

His mobile gets occupied for at least 3 hours on an average every day in the mornings since the city school started to live broadcast their classes in mid April.

IMAGE: Shantanu, A CBSE student attending online class from her home in Chennai. Photograph: Atalbihari

The kids shift to the television where government operated DD channel is running virtual classes for school students. Post classes, kids need the internet and devices again to submit assignments in requested format, look for new assignments and Google for educational content.

The buzz words across Indian families are Zoom, Google Meet, WebEx, Google Classroom, Microsoft PPT, PDF, Slides, PDF Converter, Gmail, Online Assignment Submission, Online exam using Google forms, File Sharing, Google Drive, Sessions, Connections, Fiber connections, 50/100+MBPS speed, WiFi, Hotspots etc to name a few.

A novel experience

The whole silent digital transformation process is delivering a different experience for the students across age groups, from standard 1st to 12th. The students are getting new level of coaching and learning experience while they continue their regular academic training.

Many parents are saying, even if the medium is new to most of the teachers and students, most of the limitations can be overcome if the teaching sessions are made more interactive.

IMAGE: Siddhant, A CBSE student attending online class from her home in Chennai. Photograph: Atalbihari

Many schools have created online book reading classes in collaboration with book publishers where the students are getting access to thousands of e-books

On the other hand, recorded video lectures can be viewed after the class whenever the students need during homework and revisions. They can obtain the benefits of recorded or live classes from the best educators across the country.

Digital transformation at schools till 2019, At a glance

This digital lingo and related ecosystem didn’t existed in many Indian schools & households till April 2020. In recent years few schools took small steps towards Digital Transformation by collecting online admission forms, online payments, using online modules like Google Classrooms to send homework, requesting PPTs from students on occasions to name a few.

The primary schooling function in India is offline as the country lacks infrastructure to support the digital transformation process across Schools, Teachers, Parents and Students. The infrastructure deficiency includes technology savvy teachers, robust internet connectivity, and availability of devices with teachers and students, professional apps and sites as an example.

Many parents faced some important issues with the lockdown-time home schooling like Internet connectivity, lack of teacher-student coordination and lack of a unified time-table.

Down side of the story

According to a survey, the closure of educational institutions affected students, not only those belonging to the economically weaker section of the society but also to those families in which people either lost jobs or received huge salary cuts due to adverse impact of COVID19 on overall economy. The majority of such students are still unable to explore online learning resources due to a lack of e-learning know-how and unavailability of required infrastructure including laptops, tablets, smartphone and internet.

As per a global survey, only 24 per cent Indians have access to a primary digital tool like smartphone to experience digital journey. India is way behind among the list of emerging economies with a severe disparity in the ownership of smartphones between the genders. Mere 15 percent of women own a smartphone as opposed to 34 per cent of men.

Photo by NEOSiAM 2020 from Pexels

Computers or mobiles along with a good uninterrupted internet connection are essential for online classes. Poor children, across the rural and urban areas, may need special support in form of subsidies or financial aid in this regard. The central as well as state government could suggest larger business houses to implement relevant CSR activities for this cause.

The situation is no better when it comes to internet connectivity. Many of the students are unable to access online classrooms, audio clips and so on because they don’t have enough money to recharge their data plans. According to a National Statistical Office survey, only 23.8 per cent households in the country have Internet connectivity and only 10.7 per cent have access to computers.

The education sector continued to function amid COVID19 persistently because of the teachers. Technology and tools came to their help but that was not a cakewalk. All of them are not technology savvy, few are camera shy, and their privacy is intruded as parents of students watch them during online classes. Regardless of the visible and invisible stress teachers are performing their roles.

So while students across stream are engaged in online learning via apps like Google Meet, Webex, Zoom and Microsoft Teams, teachers and students are fighting to get by with low-quality audios and videos.

As per few experts in education field, Science related laboratory based sessions and workshop based classes which need physical presence for better understanding cannot be held live. No such skills can be developed unless guidance of an instructor in schools. While higher classes may understand concepts from online classes, it may not be effective for children in lower standards, since their actions have to be continuously analyzed by the teachers which is not possible on group video calls.

As all know, education is not only book learning but also overall personality development. Students in schools and colleges get plenty opportunities for communication and improvement of social skills, which is not possible in the online medium. Concepts like teamwork and leadership can be learnt only in groups with students’ active interaction.

The way ahead

To reduce the disparity in Indian education system in delivering education equally to all students, the Government of India has started many initiatives.

Through programmes such as SWAYAM (Study Webs of Active Learning for Young Aspiring Minds), it has been broadcasting various teaching courses to learners via Doordarshan and All India Radio channels that may be accessible to a larger audience.

While such initiatives fulfill primary digital content requirements and many startups can get in to more interactive content creation, what we lack is an infrastructure to deliver and consume the existing digital content. While content in English has been created adequately, online study material in regional languages is not available. State governments can invite content creators to create quality educational content in regional languages.

The focus of Government (Central as well as State) should be making high speed internet connectivity and devices like tablets or laptops available to deserving families at a reasonable cost.

The COVID19 and its impact on international business, including China’s role as a global electronics hub and a shift of focus of many countries like America, France towards India as a next electronics manufacturing hub has given Government of India a golden chance to scale its Make in India initiative. With Make in India initiative, once India starts manufacturing electronic devices in India, it will pave a way to deliver low cost devices to the larger spectrum of unprivileged students and their families.

The education field can look at a unified system that merge the time-honoured classroom teaching and online training may become a new normal. Students may be able to enrol in multiple degrees at the same time from the same or multiple universities in the online mode. As per reports, UGC has already given the go-ahead to students to pursue two degree courses simultaneously.

COVID19 pandemic has paved way for Digital Transformation in Indian Education System, may work as blessing for a revolution in teaching and learning, a long-awaited necessitate.

By, Atalbihari Baddar


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