In a recent report, UNICEF revealed that the involuntary closure of educational institutions worldwide affected close to 1.57 billion students in over 190 countries. COVID-19 shook the foundational structures of global educational institutions overnight.
Even in India, per an MHRD directive, the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) was given due notice to formulate renewed guidelines. The directive sought to promote virtual engagement and cater to online classes’ needs without compromising students’ physical and mental health and learning outcomes.
The question remains, is there a limitless silver lining to online education in India?
Advantages of Online Education:
- Flexible Learning Environment– Virtual classes mandate only a digital device, preferably a laptop or smartphone device with a stable internet connection. Students, therefore, have the flexibility to choose a favourable and convenient learning environment that offers the least distractions and is conducive to their learning needs. Moreover, it helps reduce travel time being invested to commute back and forth to campus.
- Cost-Effective- Virtual classes are seemingly affordable since there is minimal to negligible expenditure for tuition, travel and other miscellaneous charges that would otherwise be incurred during a pre-pandemic school year.
- Self-Paced Learning- Traditional on-campus classrooms tend to create a competitive environment. Virtual classes mark a significant step in the right direction to dissolve this disparity and break the barrier between students who are quick to grasp new concepts and retain information from students who prefer a slower learning pace. Online education, therefore, offers the space to create an egalitarian collaborative environment between students of different learning paces.
- Rich Repository of Learning Material– Virtual classes, present a creative opportunity for educators to develop and inventively tailor creative modes of student engagement. Additionally, it offers a space to incorporate co-curricular material to enhance students’ impression of subject-specific learning outcomes.
- Safe Space- In a typical classroom, there is a higher probability of students being guarded and refraining from speaking up, participating in class, raising their hand or clarifying their doubts. Virtual classes offer students the security of anonymity, potentially boosting their levels of confidence.
- Practical Training- When classes are virtual and assignments are research-based, students are inherently being trained to develop a particular aptitude for self-discipline. Be it exploring the internet, synthesizing relevant information or learning the trade of online activities; students will be prepared with the netiquettes needed to succeed in a professional career.
At the same time, there is a downside to online education in India.
Disadvantages of Online Education:
- Limited Student Feedback- Providing regular student feedback virtually continues to remain a relatively unresearched domain. Personalized feedback has a motivational impact, and educators are still working towards identifying effective strategies to implement the same.
- Distractions- Apart from the independent distractions and increased screen exposures that accompany the use of digital devices offer, the lack of separation of boundaries between home and school creates a laid back environment, consequently hindering productivity. Additionally, there is no restriction or institutional guideline to push students and help them manage time and coursework.
- Lab Experience- Students lose out on the opportunity to engage in lab activities and hands-on-workshops that account for a significant part of their educational experience. Rather than striking a balance, the focus inevitably shifts to theory over practicum exposure.
- Question of Inaccessibility- Only 15% of India’s rural household commands Internet access. This creates an exclusionary educational society, favouring only the privileged.
- Less Personal- Virtual classes are seemingly impersonal and suffocating since they lack effective interaction between students and their educators. It creates a digital divide that only widens the gap between students, their peers and educators, more so with growing instances of discontinuity such as technical glitches and poor internet connection.
- Comprising Quality of Teaching- Virtual classes merit heavy reliance on digital technology. Educators who lack familiarity with the technology or remain uncomfortable with teaching via a screen might fall short in doing justice to the course’s delivery and design, of no fault of their own. Yet, a student loses out in this scenario.
In the coming years, online education in India is projected to be the chief beneficiary driving the nation’s development. It has given us hope to keep the midnight oils burning and the ebb of learning alive. If we pay attention and consciously bridge the learning gap between the privileged and the unprivileged, our future will mean evolved quality e-learning for all.