Navi Mumbai: Smart phones, Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, Robotics, Blockchain Technologies and the Internet of Things have been a part of every conversation for reforms in Education, Training and Research in the new millennium.

The new generation is already coming to grips with the fact that technology enabled learning has transformed the online education scenario and experience. The traditional science of teaching in a regular classroom can be enhanced and supplemented and prove to be more flexible and impactful.

The New Education Policy 2020, that replaces a 34 years old policy, and the Digital India campaign is all set to transform the education pattern in the country. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this transformation, driving learning processes to a blend of online and campus options. Though online education has its own set of challenges, it is there to stay as the new normal in the post-pandemic shaping of education, that calls for creation of knowledge tools to motivate creativity and innovation in the young minds, who will in turn shape the future of the nation.    

Children adapt very fast and hence they are lapping up this transition from a physical classroom to the virtual platform, braving all the challenges packaged within it. Sadly, the digital divide between the private and civic schools is starkly evident.

“Online learning is a different experience and has encouraged my son to be attentive to be able to complete the assignments given after every lesson. I would never have risked sending him to school in the present corona scare. Further, my son is now so familiarised with the learning gadget, that he explores more sights to know more about the world around and there are quite a few infotainment and edutainment sites, that we suggest and ask him to surf. We should avoid the pitfall of pushing children too much, as fatigue or irritation could set in. Left to himself, he enjoys learning the new way, but misses his friends and physical activity, which can be compensated by a little interaction, fun and games with friends in the neighbourhood, of course maintaining the required social distancing norm.

This online learning enables parents and/or other elders at home too, to know what the child is studying and how he is faring. I find my son more relaxed and quite engrossed in his studies even though he is learning at home,” remarked Vrishali Amit Patil, a resident of CBD-Belapur and mother of Adney, a III standard student of Vishwajyot High School, Kharghar.

KAIVALYA

Homes have become classrooms and it is Any Time Learning now in the aftermath of the closure of educational institutes to contain the spread of the corona-virus pandemic, keeping students engaged with the digital platform.

Online schooling has its own merits and demerits, that has been unfolding blatantly as virtual learning appears to be the best alternative in the present unprecedented lockdown enforced by the government to contain the spread of the unstoppable pandemic.

MAYANK

Kirti Suresh Sondulkar, a resident of Juinagar and mother of Rachit, a VII std. student of Mata Amrita Vidyalayam High School, Juinagar remarked that her son misses the outdoors very much, but has taken to online learning quite seriously and is very attentive and punctual in completing the assignments given. He does tend to surf the net beyond the school learning, which has widened his knowledge base, though his over-indulgence in games has to be kept in check by us, as parental vigilance. She further adds that the classmates stay connected through their WhatsApp group and do not hesitate to ask their teachers to re-explain what they fail to grasp.

TEHREEN

The emerging challenge is not only to build standardized educational content, but also to ensure access to all the students, to digital accessories like computers, smart phones, broadband networks, and wi-fi.

Also, teachers will have to be trained to deliver the lessons in the most interesting format to retain students’ attention and enable them to be at ease, without losing focus.

RAJASI

Jasmine Sameer Bagwan, a resident of Nerul and mother of Tehreen, a V std. student of DAV Nerul (brother Sohail in X std.) stated that her daughter too misses the classroom interaction with classmates and teachers and finds the online learning more cumbersome, particularly her difficult subject, Maths. ‘So, I help her with it along with her elder brother Sohail, who has just cleared his X std. We also have a parents’ WhatsApp group, where we discuss and share our issues that helps. Some parents of students in the secondary section inform us that their children are having a great time with online learning. Sometimes the teacher could make all the difference between making the subject dull or interesting’, she adds.

KIRTI AND RACHIT

Manoj Jalnawala, father of Kaivalya, V std. student of Goldcrest High School, Vashi and Rajasi, III std. student of OES International School, Vashi states that his son, Kaivalya, is very tech savvy and he finds the online learning comfortable and safe and is engrossed in surfing the net beyond the classroom learning and daughter, Rajasi, being quite studious, is very attentive at the online learning sessions and has accepted it as the new norm, completing the given assignments on time and eagerly looking forward to the next session.

Nandkumar Thakur, a resident of Sanpada village and father of Mayank, VIII std. student of St. Mary’s Multipurpose High School and Junior College, Vashi informed that his son studies on his own and though much studies have not started yet, finds it convenient to record the lessons and follow it at his convenience and as many times as required and he stays in touch with his classmates on WhatsApp, though he misses his direct interaction with his teachers and friends.     

VRISHALI AND ADNEY

Unlike a classroom, where students are held accountable for their course-work by their teachers, online learning calls for self or parents-driven initiatives, setting of goals, tracking progress and adhering to deadlines. One does not learn effectively in isolation, so online courses do offer articulated presentation by enthusiastic teachers, discussion forums, e-mail and one-on-one interactive support. Technology also adds on to the visual experience by incorporating animations that can be used interactively for effective learning and communication.

But distractions and a casual approach to studying at home cannot be ruled out and students could be more focussed in the classroom. Sometimes the issue of internet connection, network issue, power cut becomes a bother. Technological solutions need to be looked into to cater to learning needs.

Digital Divide

Inequality among children in private and public schools and urban and rural areas are now a point of much deliberations and focus.

Only a few of the schools and colleges could adopt and afford the online technologies. Keeping that in mind, there is an urgent need to create unique, affordable and customized solution to help institutions digitize their teaching that should include all the municipal and Zilla Parshad schools too.

The rural urban gap in literacy, accessibility to schools and household expenditure on education, remains significant. Just 4% of rural households having access to computers as compared to 23% in urban areas, reveals the survey by the National Statistical Office. The pitfalls of the technology divide becoming a wide learning divide is rudely threatening our social fabric.

The Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation’s education department, in their call to citizens to avail admission in the civic schools, promises free admissions, well-equipped buildings, quality and meritorious education, free educational materials, insurance scheme, education through e-learning and smart boards and online education facility through YouTube channel during the present lockdown period.

Thus, the digital divide is nakedly evident. While students in the private schools in the city have access to digital learning in the present lockdown with interaction with teachers and assessment of given assignments, the students of NMMC schools numbering over 35,000, have to view YouTube channels, without even ensuring how many of these students have smart TVs or smart phones to access these, virtually mocking at the urban non-elites and denying basic education in the present situation, stated Sudip Gholap, father of Shashwati, who studies in a municipal school in CBD-Belapur. Sudip adds that many children of migrant labourers in the city studying in the NMMC schools have left the city, that could account for a large number of school – drop-outs.       

The PM’s E-Vidya scheme focusses on promoting digital education and make e-learning feasible for students and teachers, thus providing multi-mode access to digital education. DIKSHA, a ‘one nation, one digital platform’ initiative purports to provide high-quality e-learning resources and teaching, even as over 100 universities have been permitted to start online courses.

On July 20, DD Sahyadri started telecast of 30-minute episodes of educational programs from class I to VIII every day from 7.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. except on Sundays. This is a collaborated initiative of the SCERT and The Maharashtra Knowledge Corporation Limited in which the State is trying to reach students using this medium. The project named ‘Tilimili’ consists of 480 episodes, divided into 60 topics in 60 episodes on 60 days and scheduled to end on September 23.

Re-set Education Systems

We have to design well-thought, intelligent, realistic and acceptable solutions and behavioural guidance to encourage parents and children to adopt safe online behaviour.

An irritated VI std student committed suicide on July 20 at Govandi in Mumbai, because his mother took away her phone from him after he finished his online learning, as she had to give the phone to her elder son who is in VIII std. for his online class.

Educationists and administrators have to draw their professional attention to develop online and offline interventions to address the grave threats to children online, to leverage online education to make our education systems more conducive to learning and to initiate more motivation and self-discipline in online education.

Facebook has announced to invest $1million to the distance learning training for teachers and both Google and Facebook intend to train 1 million teachers across the country. Google has reportedly committed to provide distance mode of learning through television and other means to schools and students without digital infrastructure. The training will focus on a combination of the classroom approach with online learning, using free tools by Google.

More such gestures and initiatives could be forthcoming and will be needed on a large scale to re-set the prevailing learning systems to cope with the rapidly changing and competitive educational environment and thwart the devastative social divide.