Hardeep Sachdeva

Senior Partner, AZB & Partners

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The Evolution Of E-education

Students and learners across the globe are continuing their learnings through on-line classes conducted by their schools, colleges, universities, and other educational institutions.

Today, the entire world is witnessing a new digital revolution while struggling with the ongoing pandemic and seeking social & physical distancing. Working from home has become the new norm, where workers, employees, and consultants across the board are digitally connected with their clients, customers, or their companies and seamlessly delivering work without being present under the same roof. More and more people are glued to televisions or digital channels for their daily doses of news, current affairs updates, and for various entertainment spells. These are in addition to ever-growing digital demand in India for e-banking, payment wallets, e-commerce retail, travel, taxi-hailing services, and various e-others.

The effect of the pandemic has also been felt very heavily in the education space, affecting the young population and the learners all over the world. Almost all students and learners across the globe are continuing their learnings through on-line classes conducted by their schools, colleges, universities, and other educational institutions. Most of these are "must cases", where the students and learners had to complete their ongoing curriculums or complete their periodic semesters. Some are the learners who had to satisfy their desire to learn more. never quench their thirst. 

Initiatives at K-12 level: Some of the educational boards (including Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE)) informed schools associated with it to promote students of grades 1 to 8 and promote students of grades 9 and 11 to the next grade based on the school-based-assessment conducted till date. Recently, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) notified that the examinations for grade 10 students were over (except Northeast Delhi) and the schedule for pending examinations for grade 12 will be announced soon. 

Further, CBSE has also issued a letter to all principals of the schools suggesting a few measures that may be implemented voluntarily and the same include inter-alia, shifting the focus from ‘schooling only at school’ to ‘school-home collaboration for learning’ by increasing the engagement of schools with the parents, conducting video calls, sharing the course curriculum through WhatsApp and online classes synced with the routine timetable that was followed while in school, using the digital platforms provided by the MHRD, etc. Moreover, CBSE has also started the online fitness classes through YouTube for school students with an aim to keep them both physically and mentally fit during this emergency situation. The Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations (ICSE) has also taken an initiative and entered into a partnership with the TV channel ABP Ananda, to facilitate online teaching of subjects like English and Mathematics for students as per the ICSE’s course curriculum.

Initiatives to protect higher education: At the university level, UGC has also stepped up its operations to efficiently handle the stress created amongst the students about the postponed examinations and their prospects after education. UGC had constituted two committees, one to look after the examinations and academic calendar, and the other to promote online learning. Recently, the two committees have recommended commencing the classes in September instead of July. Further, UGC is still in the process of devising a plan to conduct examinations and online classes to complete the pending syllabus. Meanwhile, UGC has advised the teachers and students to utilize this time productively by engaging in e-learning on various digital platforms and also advised its affiliated colleges and universities to implement certain measures for the mental health, psychological aspects and well being of the students which include setting up of helplines and help groups and regular monitoring of students through virtual interactions, etc. 

The technical educational body AICTE, in order to prevent unfair practices by institutions, has urged all colleges/ institutions to not insist on payment of fees till the on-going lockdown is uplifted and normalcy is restored and to display such information on their website in addition to communicating the same to the students. The AICTE has also instructed the institutions to pay salaries to the faculty and staff members and conduct online classes for the current semester. Additionally, AICTE has also endeavoured to provide digital access for the continuation of the academic activities by various online mechanisms such as free of cost digital portal, webinars, faculty development programmes, leadership talks, etc. 

Government Intervention and Other Initiatives: In the wake of this crisis, the Government of India (GOI) and various state governments directed educational institutions (at almost all levels) to promote digital learning so that the students could continue the learning process by fully utilizing the available digital platforms during the period the educational institutions remained closed as a precautionary measure to fight COVID-19. 

The MHRD in an attempt to ensure that the learning process of the students is not hindered issued a list of key digital/ e-learning platforms for online education which includes the national online education platform ‘SWAYAM’ that encompasses 1900 courses covering subjects of secondary and higher education and provides for credit transfers for courses up to 20 per cent. Other e-learning platforms provided by MHRD include ‘Swayam Prabha’ that has 32 DTH TV channels transmitting educational contents on a 24x7 basis across India and education web portals of National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) like ‘Diksha’ and ‘e-Pathshala’. MHRD has recently launched a web portal ‘YUKTI- Young India Combating COVID with Knowledge, Technology and Innovation’ which includes the various initiatives and efforts of the educational institutions in academics, research especially related to coronavirus, social initiatives and the measures taken for the betterment of the total well being of the students. This portal provides an opportunity for various educational institutions around the country to come forward and share their strategies for various challenges posed by COVID 19 as well as other future initiatives. 

In mid-April, the MHA had issued revised guidelines which provided for inter-alia, encouragement of online learning/ distance learning, maintaining the academic schedule through online teaching, and making maximum use of Doordarshan and other educational channels for the purposes of teaching. Recently, the MHA has also permitted the stores to sell educational books to operate. Further, the Union Human Resource Development Minister has also announced that the states are at discretion to develop their own academic calendar and assessment schedule and can also decide upon when to have the summer break depending on the locally prevalent situation. Additionally, the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister directed all the officials to start online education in primary, secondary, higher, technical, professional, medical, nursing, and other institutions and work on making it a permanent model.

In February, the GOI had already taken a drastic step and for the first time allowed the top 100 institutions in India to offer fully online degrees for selected courses. 

Challenges posed by e-education: Despite the numerous initiatives undertaken by the governmental authorities, e-education continues to pose some challenges. One such challenge is faced by the economically weaker sections (EWS); where the students and their parents from the EWS category are facing difficulties owing to unavailability and unaffordability of electronic devices. Other challenges include teething troubles for both teachers and students owing to technical constraints of hardware, connectivity, and technology. Also, the very quality of education is yet to be determined and tested; in its comparison to education in person.

The Future: Every situation has a silver lining and with digital learning becoming the focus area, the education sector in India may undergo a positive transformation and likely to see an evolution. As teachers and learners will become more technology savvy and as more people will seek learning at their convenience and comfort at an affordable cost, the demand for online education in India might rise to strengthen the country’s digital learning infrastructure.

Moreover, with online education becoming the need of the hour, it will also be interesting to see if the government will find this time ripe for bringing long due changes in regulations to allow private foreign participation and foreign investments in education in India; and this will have to start with allowing private companies to own and operate schools and other educational/ technical institutions. 

As summer holidays in India are around the corner and there seems no end to the lock-down until the summer breaks are over, there will certainly be huge demand as of now for various digital & other on-line programmes to keep the students and learners occupied.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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