Virtual education, and the challenges thereof

As we enter into a different kind of a world order after the outbreak of Covid-19, health, economy and every sector including education need to brace up for this emerging challenge. The immediate fallout on education has been that as of now most of the educational institutions like schools, colleges and universities world over stand closed which is unprecedented in scale. What does this mean, it means millions of students across the world have stopped going to schools for their day to day activities at their respective institutions. Thousands of scholars will not be able to attend their respective research institutions globally. Does that mean education will stop or do we need to resort to alternative educational models? There is another question, do we really need to care about education when the life and death kind of a situation has arisen. These and many other questions arise in times of doom and gloom. This reminds me of a quote by Malcolm X, “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare it for today.”

In this scenario which of course is very difficult to come to terms, is pretty tough. My humble way of looking into this is that probably education cannot and should not stop-come what may. Because ultimately we need to come to terms with the world which is uncertain and it is probably education which will help us navigate this uncertain territory.

Currently if we look into the world over-it is evident that the advocates of virtual education are more proactive and are virtually shooting from the foot and these people believe that virtual education is the only remedy, which now seems unavoidable if not completely practicable.

Here I am reminded of an IDEA conference organized by the Indian Distance Education Association in collaboration with the Directorate of Distance Education, University of Kashmir, which was then headed and guided by Prof. (Dr.) Shafeeqa Parveen, in November 2009, in which I was a participating member, a Professor from somewhere South of India, unfortunately of whom I do not remember name, argued during his presentation apart from many things that “tomorrow belongs to Distance Education” and of course he was trying to build a case for distance education and many among the audiences including me thought otherwise and argued with the presenter on this kind of argument.

Today, after more than a decade when I look back and see the emerging world scenario and the challenges ahead to the formal education, I believe he had a point then.

At the same time, we need to understand the fact that going virtual has its own set of issues and problems and probably with this baggage of problems we can say that the virtual education can act as the complementary system of education rather than an alternative model of education.

As the current pandemic has thrown open lot of challenges and these challenges are equally true with regard to education, I believe as teachers as well as administrators we need to take on this challenge head on. Having said this as a teacher we are being told to shift to the online medium and reach out to our students. Apparently  it seems a good idea, but there seems to be some inbuilt challenges. Can this transition be possible within days especially in this part of the world wherein the work in the area of online education is at nascent stage.

When it comes to e-resources, I believe there are enough of them available on different digital platforms and as a teacher it is our moral as well as professional responsibility to filter these resources and make them available to a particular group of students as per their needs.

What educational administrators could have done or could do in future is to prepare a data base of the student’s right from the pre primary to the university level and to make that available to their respective teachers on some digital platform.

This transition from face to face education to the virtual education should not be taken as an alternative but as complementary to each other and it needs investment, time, and willingness on part of all stakeholders more importantly teachers at all levels of education. Biggest of all challenges vis-à-vis education is yes we can put up online resources for learning but do we have a robust mechanism of evaluation system through online medium. Yes I believe lot of objective tests are done especially for competitive exams but we need to move beyond the objective tests as they have very limited scope and can be only put in use on limited occasions.

Among all the stakeholders, we perhaps have one important task to reorient our youth especially our students to help them understand that internet is not only about social networking sites and games, let them understand it is beyond that and they too need to come in terms with this hard fact.

Adding to all aforementioned challenges is the issue of reaching out to millions of those students who do not have the privilege of having the smart phones, which then obviously puts these students at a disadvantageous position, we need to take care of this fact too and try our best to reach out to these students as well.

In conclusion, apart from above mentioned challenges we have issues like from no internet to low internet which has added to our complications of this transition from face to face formal system of education to an online education which I believe is completely within the purview of the government and authorities have a moral responsibility of fixing this issue so that the transition could be possible and smooth enough.

Author is Assistant Professor (Education), Higher Education Department, Government of Jammu and Kashmir, posted at Government Degree College Ganderbal, Kashmir. Views are personal.