Ten changes that made 2020 a watershed year in the global education sector
Yes, we all know how the pandemic had froze the world into a time warp. It had affected the civilization in a way never encountered since the last World War came to a close. In short, life had changed for all of us. However, the dust will definitely settle, and life would surely carry on. But some things seem to have changed for ever and not everything will remain the same. Because, not all sectors had been impacted the same way by this disruption. Education is one such domain. The year 2020 has changed everything that we knew about institutions and campus life and exams and admissions and curricula and teacher-student chemistry – perhaps forever. Students worldwide stayed away from campus for the longest duration ever. As we leave the surreal year behind, let us take stock of 10changesthat swept over the education sector in 2020.
- Learning from home
As fear of contagion drove the world indoors, academic institutions – right from the pre-primary till the post-graduate level – shifted to the virtual/online teaching mode. The problem was, not everyone knew what that meant – especially in a country like India. Different institutions tried to cope with the situation differently, based on infrastructural capabilities. While comparatively larger and affluent institutions had a ready platform for virtual delivery, most didn’t. The situation forced all of them to scamper for last-minute solutions and most eventually managed to set up a hastily coordinated plan where teachers could at least try and run through the syllabus for the year over third-party video conferencing tools – like Zoom, Skype or Google Classroom. The students mostly had to make do with whatever mobile device was available at home, be it their moms’ smartphone or dads’ laptop. And cybersecurity was a palpable issue.
- In-person to on-screen
Despite all the technological progress around us, teaching traditionally remained a classroom affair. Although web-based learning had gained acceptance in delivering professional training and workplace learning, academic teaching at schools, colleges and universities always relied on instructor-led, face-to-face teaching. Everyone agreed that it was the most effective method for clarification of doubts, immediate learner feedback and a steady two-way communication between the teacher and the student all through the learning process. However, the pandemic-induced lockdown mercilessly thrust the world into remote teaching mode – and that too without any time to adjust to the change. Even the tiniest communication now had to be web-based, either via video-calls or at least over the telephone; and suddenly persons with superior verbal communication capabilities stood at an advantage. It is too early yet to fathom what long-term implications this might have. However, it is a huge change and is sure to have far-reaching impact.
- Overall tech boost
Whether we like it or not, the altered situation has provided an unprecedented boost to the maximum exploitation of technology in education. Major tech companies have been investing in marketing learning management platforms and related solutions with an eye to the burgeoning clientele across the education sector. Another parallel development is the widespread introduction of various online courses by educational institutions. While foreign universities always had a robust bouquet of web-based learning courses on offer, the learn-from-home trend in the lockdown phase has prompted local institutes to follow suit. We have our very own high-profile organisations – the ISRO and the IITs – introducing several short-term online learning modules. Some are even offering full time undergraduate programs on offbeat and in-demand subjects. Even the Government of India has undertaken an initiative called SWAYM which offers over 2000 online courses free of cost. It targets underprivileged students left out of the digital revolution and unable to join the mainstream of the knowledge economy. Although courses delivered through SWAYAM are free, one needs to pay a nominal fee and attend an in-person exam for a formal certificate. Anyone can access SWAYAM courses at https://swayam.gov.in/
- Paper to bytes
In sync with classroom teaching, learning content was always presented in the physical hard-copy format. However, with things turning online, this had to change. This is one hurdle for which there cannot be any shortcut. The ultimate solution is to digitise – or at least scan – all teaching matter and upload them to a common repository or arrange for access-based distribution. During the early days of the lockdown, teachers did their best in their individual capacities to get notes and text-book chapters scanned on mobile phones and share them across. This shall definitely need to be addressed for the long-term. The future is sure to see more digitised learning content being distributed by the concerned institutions among students. Though complications regarding copyright and related aspects might pose bottlenecks in such initiatives.
- Teachers forced to evolve
Despite their best intentions, teachers often failed to cope up with the changed scenario rather than students. Granted this involved their livelihood – a life dedicated to teaching being their sole lifetime objective, and at one time during the lockdowns it seemed as if their profession might be under threat. Although that stage has past ever since, many teachers are still struggling to come to terms with the altered method of teaching. One obvious reason was that they are not as tech savvy as the generation they teach. Although student groups have come forward everywhere with tech-tips for their teachers, the lack of comfort naturally keeps on bugging them. All these years they had perfected the in-person mode of learning delivery, which is never the same as speaking to a video camera. They are further handicapped in the absence of feedback which they used to obtain from the body language and the expression of their students. That helped in modulating their teaching accordingly. That entire process is no longer pertinent in the new scenario – and that is a big headache indeed. This is yet another hurdle that calls for long-term solution. Academic institutions as well as policymakers should organise adequate upskilling sessions for teachers to make them more proficient in video communication as well as in handling different technology platforms.
- The digital divide
This pandemic has blatantly brought into focus the disparity between the privileged and the mon-privileged classes in education. The first thing that online education requires is internet connectivity. Unfortunately, in a country like India, that is still considered more of a luxury than a necessity. Not every family has access to moderate-to-high-speed internet connectivity – so essential for remote teaching. Firstly, there are areas where network coverage is non-existent. And secondly, there are families that are financially incapable of bearing the charges of net connections. This was an accepted state of affairs for quite some time now – and none bothered, till the lockdowns made “online” the only route to education for the entire nation. In many Indian states, education is free – but access to technology proved to be a factor which only the privileged could buy. Policymakers would need to address this social rift to ensure that the constitutional right to education is not compromised due to the pandemic.
- Calendar scare
Disruption in normal classes meant institutions could not complete their course curricula in time – and this concerned happened at all levels. Plus, project-assignments have to be complete and submitted, and practical examinations will also need to be finished. These will require the institutions to hold at least some classroom activity, which would not be possible until the states allow classes to be resumed. And that, in turn, means that the 2020-2021 academic session will need to be stretched till these are over. As a result, the annual academic calendar will not be completed in time – leading to a cascading Domino Effect on the subsequent academic sessions as well. This will also affect future plans of the students in terms of admissions and national level entrance examinations. The pile up may require several years to be cleared.
- Formalities online
One big change that has happened – and is going to stay – is the complete online makeover for official formalities related to examinations and admissions. While there have been quite a few hitches on the way – like complicated online forms, link failures, server problems, document uploading, and payment procedures – no one can deny that eventually all institutional formalities are going to be done only online, and Covid-19 has only hastened what was inevitable.
- Reverse talent flow
A curious phenomenon has been observed in the placement department. While interviews and screening procedures went online, foreign recruiters were absent from the recruitment scenario this year. This meant that astronomical overseas job offers were not going to happen this year. However, to Indian recruiters, this provided a golden opportunity to pick up the best available national talent. If this trend continues for a few years, India Inc. might be reaping rich harvests!
- A policy for the future
Although not related to the pandemic in any way, the year saw the introduction of a new National Education Policy (NEP) that could possibly change the Indian education landscape. NEP 2020. projects an intention of doing away with the traditional baggage of rote scholarship and usher in original thinking, critical reasoning and hands-on learning. A lot of structural changes have been made to the academic model – both at the school level as well as in higher education. Many academicians have welcomed NEP 2020 as being progressive, multi-disciplinary and student friendly, although there is a contrary opinion that it is too imitative of the US model and might not work as promised.