With the outbreak of novel coronavirus, many business sectors have been affected tremendously. The education sector is the latest area that has been affected by this prevailing situation. Most countries have shut down their universities, colleges, and schools.
The outbreak of the deadly coronavirus has unleashed a global crisis. With an impact spanning over hundred countries, the virus is already impacting the global economy in a hard way. Uncertainty looms all over the world, and everyone is feeling the heat of this pandemic. To restrict the further spread of the virus, mass events or gatherings have been cancelled, lockdowns and travel restrictions have been imposed, and as a result, multiple business sectors have been affected. People are being encouraged for self-isolation. The fear among the public is quite evident and it may not be abating soon.
The education sector is the latest sector that has been affected by this prevailing situation. Most countries have shut down their universities, colleges, and schools. In India, most states have suspended teaching in universities, colleges, and schools, and no one knows how long this situation will prevail. Due to this dubious situation, institutes for higher education around the globe are trying to boost their online teaching capacity to ensure uninterrupted delivery of courses during such crisis to the stranded students.
But the big question is—are we prepared for it?
In India, the number of institutes involved in practicing online teaching is quite low. The use of online education is common only in professional institutes. Most of the science and art colleges are not using online education seriously. The situation is worst in rural and small city colleges.
Technically, India has the potential to provide online education to all the students in the current situation after the suspension of formal classroom teaching. India is one of the largest broadband content consumers in the world. Many of these consumers are students, who use the Internet mainly for social media and entertainment purposes. The use of the Internet as a mode of education is still abstract to them.
This is contrary to the fact that the Internet could be a great asset for educating students in offline mode by providing them content in the form of video lectures, blogs, and presentations.
Numerous colleges in India have not considered online video sessions as a serious way of delivering content to the students. It is worth noting that the major hindrance in the usage of online content by the students is the language barrier and lack of customised content according to their syllabus and needs.
The current scenario of battling with coronavirus and suspension of classes may force the educational institutes to consider online learning more seriously. Our previous experience with demonetisation gives an indication of this. While demonetisation affected a large user base in India, it also had a positive outcome in the form of a boost in online payment transactions. Before demonetisation, people did not use online payment methods and it was used only by a few tech-savvy people. But due to demonetisation, most of the ATMs dried up and people had no other option than switching to online mediums for their payment. This resulted in a boost in digital payment platforms in India. These online transactions helped the country keep going in the absence of printed money.
In the same way, in the current situation, the universities and colleges also have the option of only online mode for the delivery of content. The online learning can keep the education uninterrupted even in the moment of crisis.
Technically, with the current broadband speed and millions of smartphone users, online education is a more feasible idea to deliver content to students in the absence of traditional teaching. The only need is to motivate the teachers to create their own online content.
Of course, the Internet is already filled with a variety of learning content, but still, students don’t use them. They don’t find the existing content adhering to their needs of syllabus and examination pattern. Students need assurance that online content is authentic and they will perform well in the examination after studying it. They want the content in the same language in which they are comfortable. The need of students can only be fulfilled if their teachers come forward and record the content specifically for them so that they can feel the same personal connection and confidence as they do in classrooms.
This wreaking pandemic may push educational institutes across India to create their online content and further deliver it to their students through proper channels and platforms. This will ensure that the education would keep on going even when the universities and colleges are suspending classes. This will also help the colleges and universities to keep the teachers and students engaged in positive activities, instead of spending time in fear. In this moment of crisis, teachers and students can come forward to keep the flow of knowledge and learning uninterrupted through online learning.
Dr Parteek Bhatia is an Associate Professor at Department of Computer Science and Engineering, Thapar Institute of Engineering and Technology, Patiala