Ilma Zafar, a student of NIFT Bhubaneswar, travelled to Delhi in early March to see her family. Little did she know, this break would go on indefinitely. The Institute campus has been shut until further notice. However, online classes have commenced.
While the country remains in lockdown to stem the spread of coronavirus, top engineering and business schools in India, including IITs and IIMs have started virtual classes.
At IIT Kharagpur, first year classes are being conducted through youTube Live, and more than 40 faculty members are already taking classes using e-learning facilities. The Institute also plans on introducing flipped classroom and active learning strategies, where students can listen to recorded course lectures before the scheduled online class and ask their queries on the topic during the live session.
With no certainty when things will get back to normal, schools which had the necessary infrastructure in place have moved classes online, while many others are in the process.
As of 13 March, 61 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, North America and South America announced school and university closures, according to the UNESCO. Almost 421.4 million children and youth have been affected worldwide. Out of this, 250 million are school-going students in India.
While going online is the most viable contingency plan to enforce social distancing, how prepared are Indian schools?
A new learning
The Covid-19 pandemic has shaken every sector in the country, including education. Exams have been canceled, classes on campus have been stalled, and no one knows what the future holds. In this scenario, virtual education seems like the best alternative.
With final exams being suspended, the Delhi government has decided to promote all students from nursery to Class 8 in all schools without taking examinations, under the no-detention policy during the pandemic. For others, online classes and assessment-based activities have begun that will help teachers grade students.
Mumbai-based LEAD School has launched a programme called LEAD School@Home to help schools conduct live online sessions to complete the unfinished portions of their syllabus. The programme has been adopted by various schools in Bengaluru and Telangana.
Amity International School, Gurugram was already using Amitranet — an Intranet through which its connects with the parents – which has now been adapted to support online classes.
Many schools in other cities too have been using similar technology to upload worksheets and assessment papers for parents and students to access from home. These schools have now gone online with the classes.
Schools are also evolving on how to enforce discipline in the digitized world.
For instance, as classes commence from home, students have been instructed to follow a formal dress code. They will be marked absent if they are found to be logging in casual attire. Teachers have also been asked to follow the same protocol, so that schools can recreate the same environment at home.
Edtech to support online teaching
According to Microsoft, as schools move to a remote learning environment, Microsoft Teams can provide an online classroom that brings together virtual, face-to-face connections, assignments, files and conversations in a single platform accessible on a mobile device, tablet, PC or browser.
Blackboard has a portfolio of products and services that support learners at every level throughout the student lifecycle – from kindergarten to the workplace. Zoom is useful for educators, learners, as well as those working from home.
“Most schools are actively exploring various Edtech platforms for smooth online delivery of classes and are working hard to bring up to speed, a majority of its teachers who have had limited or no exposure to online instruction and delivery. To help tide over this crisis, Meritnation has made its platform available to educators to conduct classes online, and is also offering free live classes for students from grades 6-12,” says Mohit.
Gradeup has also announced the launch of its campaign #PadhaiNahiRukegi amidst the Coronavirus lockdown in India.
The campaign will specifically cater to the education needs of students from class 8 to 12, as well as those preparing for JEE and NEET exams.
Indian edutech unicorn BYJU’S has in fact witnessed a 150 percent increase in the number of new students learning on its app after announcing free access in March 2020.
Finding a way around the rickety infrastructure
In the country which has the highest number of Internet shutdowns in the world, an online-only system is not as easy, even amongst the people who can afford broadband connections and laptops.
Another problem is that the teachers themselves are also struggling to learn a whole new way of teaching. Some teachers have only been given two weeks to redesign the entire curriculum for online learning.
For those who are studying Science, there is another concern of how practical classes will take place. Bibudhendu Pati, HoD of Computer Science at Rama Devi Women’s University, Bhubaneswar, has created virtual labs to help students conduct practicals online. But still, there are several Institutes that are struggling in this regard.
Students with no access to technology
A vast majority of students however will not be able to experience this kind of online learning.
India has a huge base of internet subscribers, but in terms of penetration, it’s still not at par with countries in developed markets like Canada and the US. For under-served children who don’t have access to technology or devices at homes, how does one facilitate remote learning?
The Delhi government has taken steps in this direction. It has announced that all Class 12 students studying in Delhi government schools will be sent a link to register for online classes. Those who register will get money for internet data packages from the government since many of them cannot afford it on their own.
The silver lining
The Covid-19 outbreak will force people to adapt to a new system; circumstances will necessitate a change in the mindset. The silver lining is that technology will be adopted much sooner than it would otherwise have been done. Workplaces adapted fast, schools too will be forced to adapt as there is no other option.
“It’s the beginning of a whole new era where delivering education services online through live classes will dominate,” affirms Vibhu.
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