Why online education must be freed from its shackles?
With an estimated 146 days of school shutdowns since the outbreak, students in semi-urban and rural areas, already lagging behind their urban peers in terms of the quality of education and access to learning tools and opportunities, have fallen even further behind.
To stakeholders in the Indian education landscape, it becomes clear that this situation must change — and soon. It must begin with a review of the BharatNet initiative to ensure that high-speed internet is available and accessible in all parts of the country. Private telecom operators can also be incentivised to bolster the connectivity infrastructure in underserved regions.
It would also help to encourage the participation of corporate players in the online education space. For instance, the government can direct organisations to route a percentage of their CSR spending towards online learning initiatives amongst students hailing from rural and/or underprivileged backgrounds or to provide them with the digital devices they would need to access online learning resources.
Public and private schools, on their part, can adopt free-to-use online tools for teachers to improve the quality and efficacy of education delivered and aid the transition to a digitally-enabled education framework. Government bodies across all levels – national, state or local – can also mandate the inclusion of trusted and free online learning platforms and tools, such as NPTEL or Khan Academy, to complement the academic curricula and classroom-based pedagogy. Awareness campaigns for parents, learners, and educators in rural areas will also be needed to drive the adoption and acceptance of online learning in these regions.
A major knock-on benefit of the shift to online education is the advantage of tech-enabled pedagogy. Till now, teachers have been heroic in their attempts to meet the requirements of the students in their classroom of 30 or more. However, it is challenging for even the most passionate teacher to look after the needs of every student in the classroom. The result? Students are forced to learn at the pace decided by the teacher in view of the classroom average, which leads them to accumulate gaps in their learning journeys. This is where AI and machine learning-driven algorithms that power online learning platforms can step in to enable teachers to provide more personalised and effective learning in their classrooms. More focused interventions from teachers can help students to master the subjects they are studying by enabling them to understand concepts better and engage with ideas more effectively. This will unlock a paradigm shift away from the fixed lockstep model of learning towards mastery-based instruction and practice.
Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, once said: To go forward, we must look back. And it is of prime importance to look back at the problems that have hindered the adoption of online learning in rural India. After all, until we do so, we cannot break online learning out of its current limitations to which it is currently confined and fulfil the constitutional promise of the right to education by making it more accessible, available and affordable.