The pandemic precipitated by the unprecedented spread of the Corona virus has posed the world a litany of challenges – social, economic and educational. A microscopic organism with protein spikes spread its tentacles all over the world. While the world powers were caught off-guard by the lethal microbe and found it difficult to grapple with the COVID-19 onslaught, educational practitioners across the world rose to the occasion by reaching out to the students through non-conventional platforms to engage them productively. The schools, colleges and universities successfully leveraged technology to safeguard the academic interest of students in the face of the pandemic never seen in the history of the planet.
What we had imagined as future of educational theory and practice is what we are seeing unfold before us in the COVID-19 crisis. Educators all over the globe reached out to the students through digital space which is the only available medium in the present scenario. To safeguard the academic interest of students, the teachers skilled themselves to meet the challenge they had never imagined of, even in their wildest imaginations.
The Edutech has been experimenting and innovating in the teaching-learning process for effective delivery by the educators. The digital platforms like Zoom, e-pathshala, Google Meet, Swayam and Google Classroom etc., engage students in a virtual setting.
There are, however, certain technical hitches that mar the prospect of using these e-learning platforms productively. First, it requires possession of a smartphone by the students. Second, both teachers as well as students need to be tech-savvy to make most of these digital spaces. Third, the privacy of the teachers as well as students needs to be protected from the cyber predators, particularly in case of fair gender. Fourth, these spaces require uninterrupted high speed internet connectivity which is as elusive as peace in our troubled valley.
Engaging students through e-classes during the lockdown raises some questions which are hard to answer given our unfamiliarity with the digital space. Can the non-conventional e-classes replace the conventional classroom? Would the learning outcomes be more promising and satisfactory than in the conventional classroom? Can technology replace the teacher? Is digital space the future of educational theory and practice? Are we heading towards a school-less society?
Leveraging technology for effective delivery has been the prime focus of Edutech. Developing tools, gadgets and softwares for effective teaching and result-oriented learning is its area of concern. Equipping educators to meet the challenges of changing times is what the goal Edutech specialists have been pursuing all along.
Given my experience with the digital space which I have been using for last three and a half months, I would vouch for its use in future as well, notwithstanding the technical hitches and other allied problems that come in its wake. The reality that dawned on me is that technology is there to assist teachers and not to replace them. It will never replace the teacher, the cornerstone of the foundation of education, no matter how many milestones it will achieve in future.
Transacting educational business via digital platforms is a break from traditional monotonous teaching-learning process in which a teacher engages the students in a face-to-face manner. It is highly refreshing and stimulating both for the teacher and the students. The teacher can simultaneously engage large number of students which is not possible in the normal circumstances. On the flipside, the students will never gain the experiences or imbibe values which are possible in social life of the campus.
The World Health Organisation has unequivocally stated that we may have to live with COVID-19 for more time. A report published in the Washington Post suggested that the world may have to grapple with the Corona pandemic till 2021 end. With the corona cases going up steadily throughout the globe, the chorus is growing for online assessment and evaluation of the students. We have to pull our socks and learn to meet the challenge of online assessment as our educational ecosystem is ill-equipped and ill-prepared to use digital space for online examination.
Digital space needs to be explored and harnessed for reaping maximum learning outcomes. E-learning being the future of educational theory and practice, needs to be prioritised for the optimum development of human resources – the most precious resource on earth. The students have to be tech-smart and the teachers tech-savvy to stay relevant in the present digital age. Digital space needs to be tapped productively by the educators to assertively claim that they are second to none when it comes to using technology for the larger good of humanity.
Zeenat Ara is a teacher at Government Middle School Tumlahal, Pulwama