June 23, 2020
COVID 19 pandemic has brought about a paradigm shift in the field of education with the teaching-learning process going online world over. The teacher who is traditionally perceived to be a sage on the stage has now metamorphosed into online learning facilitator.
The sudden lockdown in the wake of rapid spread of the virus gave a little time for the institutions and educators to make a smooth transitioning from the traditional mode of teaching to the virtual learning. During these hard times, what came to the rescue of education providers world over is the introduction of free services from videoconferencing Apps such as ZOOM, Microsoft teams, Skype and Google Meet. While there were reservations about the safety of using Zoom, other providers came up with more secure features.
Apart from using these online platforms for going live with the teaching-learning process, some institutions are employing digital learning tools such as Google classroom, Moodle, Edmodo and Schoology which enable the learners to practise what they have learnt online at their individual space and time with default feedback system. While many educational institutions are employing these free to use applications, some institutions have subscribed to more customised applications in their quest to be the providers of effective online education
Scenario in Karnataka
Following the unanticipated nationwide lockdown due to COVID 19, some higher education institutions including Bangalore University in Karnataka acted swiftly to conduct live online classes using free apps such as ZOOM. Some colleges used the social video calling applications such as Whatsapp to send lecture notes and communicate with the students. Following the directive from the Ministry of Home Affairs restricting the use of ZOOM for videoconferencing/online classes, the Karnataka State Open University (KSOU) developed its own videoconferencing app called KSOU Connect’. However, the introduction of online education in colleges and universities has not been uniform. As far as schools are concerned only the elite schools were able to switch to the online mode of teaching-learning process. The digital divide is the major factor that is hampering the smooth transition to online education in the state. In rural Karnataka, the absence of proper telephone network and internet connectivity is depriving the discerning rural students from access to online education.
New Academic year
Even as the state education board is struggling to conduct SSLC examinations, it sent out a notification informing the plans to start the school from July in a phased manner after obtaining the feedback from the stakeholders. The plan has met with strong opposition from the parents including an online campaign against resuming classes. The opposition was made primarily on the ground that the COVID 19 cases are rapidly increasing on a daily basis and it is difficult to ensure social distancing norms among children. The parents are apprehensive that schools can become the hubs of the virus. Sensing the pulse of the people, the education minister immediately clarified on social media that it is not in a hurry to resume classes without considering the opinion of the stakeholders.
If schools are not going to open in July, what is the next option? Online classes may seem to be the simple, obvious answer, but it needs to be looked into more closely.
Online classes can fall into two types. Live classes and pre-recorded classes. Online Live classes high-speed internet connection and availability of laptop for the teachers and students. Students may be able to access online teaching on their smart phones, but it is neither convenient for daily use nor efficient as using some features on smart phones is cumbersome. However, many students cannot afford to have laptops for learning. If there are two kids in a family, they need two laptops. Even if you assume that all college students can afford to have laptops, what about internet connectivity in rural areas? The digital divide will pose a major challenge for higher educational institutions in the state to completely rely on live online classes. The other option is making available pre-recorded lectures on online platforms such as college website or YouTube channel. In order to enable rural students to access them, local resource centres need to be set up.
Schools and online classes
What about pre-school and lower primary classes? Even though the urban children can afford to have digital gadgets, is it sensible to make the tiny tots glued to smart phones/tabs/laptops? Will these kids be able to handle these devices unsupervised? If both the parents are working, will the grandparents or care takers be able to help the children with the proper use of the devices? Will they be able to keep a tab on the abuse of the phone?
Let us assume the mother gives up the job to assist the child engage in online learning. Is it healthy for the eyes to make the child stare at the screen for hours together, when parents otherwise restrict the usage of smart phones? Online learning requires the presence of the parent throughout the classes. Is such physical presence feasible for the parent who has to attend to essential household chores such as cooking? If there is only one smart phone at home which the child is using for the online class, how to attend the important phone calls?
So what is the panacea? Televise the lessons. Launch exclusive educational channels for different grades, which can telecast pre-recorded lectures. Televised lessons can reach rural populace much more easily. Of course they will not be a mechanism for feedback as in live or face to face class, but something is better than nothing.