The Problem Areas
Availability of Resources. Students in Rural and remote have limited access to the internet and do not own laptops and thus have to depend only on the mobile phones for communication. The problem is further accentuated by financial conditions.
Home Atmosphere. The atmosphere in most of the homes in rural areas as also those living in small one/ two room houses is not conducive to online education. The availability of network, congestion and noise pollution will adversely affect online classes. Parents and children have differing requirements. Parents may not be educated enough to understand the implications. The required support from the parents may not be forthcoming.
Increase the Divide. The over dependence on online education is likely to increase the knowledge gap between students having access to modern gadgetry and connectivity and those from the poor background.
Handling the Primary Classes. Extra efforts will have to be put in to teach the students of primary classes online. The child has a short attention span and online curriculum has to be made so interesting that it catches the child’s attention and make him understand in that short span.
Increase in dropout Rates. In the absence of direct mentoring and absence of social interactions and midday meals which the school offers, the dropout rates are likely to increase. Midday meals are a major attraction for students from poor financial background to attend schools. A child missing out on a major meal in the day is not good anyways for the growth.
Creating Classroom Atmosphere. It is difficult to create classroom atmosphere inn online classes in the absence of positive control of teachers on the students. Multiple distractions are available at home to pull the child away from classes.
Missing on Opportunity. Students, especially those in 12th class, not having conducive atmosphere at home as also not having proper access to online education resources are likely to miss out on future opportunities due to lack of preparation.
Assessment. There is a growing concern among the parent and teachers regarding conduct of exams / carrying out pragmatic assessment of students’ strengths and weaknesses in the absence of proper resources.
The Way Forward
Schools have to work out realistic online programs to catch the attention of students and keep them engaged. The education methodology has to be innovative and interesting; if you cannot produce a Bollywood thriller try producing an interesting tik tok at least. Involvement of the essential triad of students, teachers and parents is a must for digital education to succeed. Multiple social media platforms must be used to make the classes available to each student. Aim should be to make maximum study material available through normal mobile sets using minimum possible data.
Ensuring Availability. To ensure that each student has access to study material use of multiple platforms like Whatsapp, facebook, Skype, hangout, emails etc which use minimal data will have to be resorted to. More reliance should be on written material than on videos. Videos should be add-ons and not the sole means of teaching as in areas of poor network connectivity they may not work.
Student Engagement. The conduct must be innovatively planned and where possible vernacular medium be used to make the material easy to understand for students from rural areas. Even Physical training classes can be conducted online by giving lessons to students to practice in own time and encouraging them to post online videos. Even brain games may be added as homework assignments to generate interest among students.
Duration of classes. The duration of virtual classes cannot be standard. The focus of school management must shift from just completing the syllabus to educating. The curriculum should be so planned that the child does not feel overloaded, the online capsules must be short, crisp and interesting. Humour and storytelling should become integral part of teaching. The duration and timings of the classes can be set as per the combined need of students, teachers and parents.
Student Teacher Engagement. Teachers should walk the extra step to maintain contact with students and be accessible to them for clearing doubts when required. Different means like laying down a fixed time for interacting and creating whatsapp groups where students could post their doubts be created. Students be encouraged to interact with each other to resolve issues for which smaller groups of students may be formed on whatsapp. A bank of FAQs must be available online to resolve routine doubts of students.
Feedback. Regular feedback should be taken by teachers to monitor the progress of students. This can be done by means of interaction with students & parents, having Q & A sessions, conducting regular assessment tests.
Involvement of Parents. Online education will fail to achieve its aim if parents, specially, in rural areas are not brought on board and explained the modalities and the necessity. Extra effort is required from the teachers and the school Heads for carrying out parent’s orientation.
Training of Teachers. Training of teachers empowering them to use the online platforms effectively is as important as training of parents and students. If need be, special classes be conducted to make teachers capable of handling online classes and make them pro-efficient in handling computer. Laptops and other resources must be made available to the teachers to facilitate in preparing for and taking classes. Teachers should achieve the confidence levels to use the varied tools available online which facilitate online education. A confident teacher will be well motivated and plan and conduct online classes more efficiently.
Action by School. School must make all resources available for facilitating online education. Relevant online platforms suitable to the local environment be hired and made available to the teachers for content management and communicating with all stake holders. Classes have to be structured to meet the needs and aspirations of the students. A straight jacket, off the shelf ready made solution may not meet the requirement. A simple, easy to understand language must be used to keep the students engaged.
Classroom Teaching. The schools must be ready to conduct online classes under the shadow of the pandemic. Methodology must be worked out school management not only just to ensure effective imparting of education but also to ensure safety of students and prevent spreading of Corona virus in school. The safety measures and checks have to be in place right from the reception till the departure of the students and staff.
The available infrastructure may not be able to support maintenance of required physical distance between students/ teachers hence there may be a need to divide classes into two parts with one half attending live classes in schools and other half attending classes online from home. The two classes can be interchanged periodically to provide equal opportunity to all students to interact with teachers and undertake practical classes.
Hand wash facility must be made available outside every class to help students washing hands under supervision before they enter the class in the morning or after any break.
Physical distancing must be ensured in classes as well as the buses.
Maintenance of hygiene and sanitation will be of prime importance. Supervised disinfection will have to be carried of all buses, classrooms/ libraries/ laboratories and the bathrooms every day.
Though adequate safety measures must always be maintained and at all places in the school, it should also be understood that Fear is not the solution to any problem including COVID-19.
Assessment. There is a growing concern among the parent and teachers regarding conduct of exams / carrying out pragmatic assessment of students’ strengths and weaknesses in the absence of proper resources. However, in my view assessment should not be an issue at all. It is the responsibility of the school and parents to provide the resources and the right atmosphere to the child for education. The onus of effective teaching and motivation lies on parents and the teachers and it is the responsibility of the child to make best use of all resources and learn. The traditional system of conducting exams to test the students should be abolished. That may not be possible because of our over obsession with exams and grades hence the least we can do is to abolish board exams and resort to only internal assessment being carried out by schools for all classes. The marks a child gets in board exams do not in any way guarantee a safe future. The responsibility of learning must be taken on by the students themselves.
Digital internal assessment, if conducted, should ensure transparency and confidentiality at same time. Students should be able to handle it with ease. Numerous software-based programs are available in the market for conduct of online exams ranging from one-word types to writing long answers. All students may not have good typing abilities and measures to be taken to ensure these students are not harmed.
Action By CBSE/ State Education Boards. The major responsibilities of the Education boards will be to re-work the syllabus to suit the online teaching and prepare tailormade online teaching packages for schools and launch state sponsored e-education portals. The Education boards must take the initiative and move towards abolishment of board conducted central exams from schools; let the child understand his responsibility and learn in a stress- free environment.
Digital Connectivity. High speed internet will form the backbone of effective online teaching. The Government must ensure that interruption free internet is made available in every corner of the country.
COVID-19 has forced lakhs of students to stay away from classrooms. As I see it, Corona virus is not going to leave in a hurry and even after it leaves digital mode of education is here to stay and should become an integral part of routine teaching / learning source in every school.
Schools were generally shying away from using digital platforms for aiding/ imparting education. Now is the time to change the fixated mindset and integration of as much technology as possible to facilitate classroom studies. The circumstances created by COVID -19 may turn out to be the game changer in the field of education and make us future ready.