Online Learning: The way ahead

Representational Image [Source: Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay]

The year 2020 cast a dark looming shadow over the entire education system of the country and left the fate of millions of students in a limbo. What we all thought was going to be a phase of pandemic that we will have to pass until better days, is now actually turning out to be a more difficult time. There was a little pause during winters which enabled offline exams and some classes being conducted in the institutions. In the wake of rising second wave of the pandemic, the covid-19 cases across the country hitting record highs, the schools, colleges and universities have been closed down again and asked to switch to online teaching mode. The students are now back home again with their phones, laptops and computers. After a yearlong trial and error process, there has been some innovative reforms and experimentation in the online learning for both students and teachers. The things are looking better this year under 4-G speed that can ensure better quality of learning. The online education which is already a norm in several countries across the globe has immense potential for all-round student growth. It is vast, versatile and engaging that can provide a respite in desperate times like the pandemic.

Covid-19 pandemic has helped teachers to learn a lot about e-learning techniques, handling of electronic gadgets and strategies to keep their students engaged but in the modern world of technologies the teachers  have to be more tech-savvy to maximize learning for their students. Having been associated with the academics for over 2.5 decades and being a tech-savvy, I have experienced that the simple and the best mode of teaching online is to conduct live and synchronous classes on Zoom App  using a white board or power point presentation, record these lectures and share it in the Google classroom or WhatsApp group. This is in view of the fact that we have infrastructure issues at our institutions.  The live lectures are not so different than offline lectures and the students can ask questions to satisfy themselves. Unlike other softwares, creating a video lecture on Zoom is smaller in size. For example 15-minutes video lecture in MP4 becomes hardly 20MB which can further be reduced using online video compressors. I don’t support teachers sharing notes or other ready-made material in the Google classroom and writing some lines to the students and expecting them to read and regurgitate it. They need to design short lectures of 10-15 minutes and the students need to jot down important points to study it later. Apart from the regular online classes, there are quality lectures and other material that a student can avail on the internet which I believe is far superior to the e-content we are talking about. Attending online classes is a serious business and it is the responsibility of teachers to ensure that most of the students are attending these classes.

Any calamity, natural or man-made, has always affected under-privileged the hardest and Covid-19 is no exception. We just forget the invisible-the poor and the marginalized. During the course of interaction with the students over the last few months, scores of them asked me that, we don’t afford to have mobile phones, how we can attend online classes? In fact there are a huge number of such students with less noticed deprivation prevalent in our school system. This Inaccessibility to the digital infrastructure and loss of academic learning is furthering the learning gap between haves and have-nots. Even if one takes online classes as an emergency measure and maintain that ‘something is better than nothing’ despite it being against the principle of equal opportunity, this is going to push a big chunk of students to a greater comparative disadvantage. These students from the non-privileged families unable to access technology to study online may become drop-outs which is against the basic right to education. Some kind of mechanism is to be made at the Institutional level through Govt agencies, NGOs, civil societies etc and gadgets like mobile phones be made possible for those who cannot afford one, through donations, scholarships and other schemes. Establishment of a board based communication link like a TV Channel exclusively for online classes would be more practicable idea to help such underprivileged students on a large scale.

While online education is helpful in situations like pandemic, it is far from providing a wholesome education experience. Education is not just about information or content delivery to students via screens and all that exams and grades. It is a holistic experience of growing up in a system of camaraderie and learning things that the virtual medium is not able to provide. An old African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” captures the importance of social and communal interaction in the growth of a child.  The assimilation of technology in the system revolutionized the education around the whole world. To take care of a situation like the pandemic, a full-fledged on-line education needs a massive, penetrating and revolutionary infra-structure development including the change of hearts, souls and minds of both the students and the teachers. It is also a high time that we talk about resuming education in our institutions by turning the campuses into safe places. We need to prepare action plans in order to have a safe environment for the students in such a way that we do not have to keep schools/colleges closed. It is not just about online learning, but also about to deal with students who have lost out on education because of the pandemic. The education is pillar to build a society. We cannot survive without education and thus we cannot ignore its importance.

Finally, my advice to the students is to engage in self-study as well. It can play an important role in their success. The beauty of self-learning is that, once you set out for a task, it makes you to think beyond limitations and you learn things out of natural curiosity. It boosts your comprehension and equips you with skill sets that are invaluable. Perhaps this is the biggest reason why self-learning people succeed in real world situations. Go through the biographies of great people; see for yourself, they were entirely self-educated. They learnt from books and they never stopped learning. In today’s digital world, there is an enormous amount of information all around us and it is so easy to do self-learning. Instead of complaining and doing nothing, the students need to rise to the occasion, come out from their comfort zones, focus on studies, complete the exercises on their own and latter evaluate their progress. It is also important not to get hooked to screens, pay attention on physical exercises and games to avert depression.The author is a college principal