Force of the Pandemic in Education:
What demonetization of late 2016 did to fintech in India, the COVID19 pandemic of early 2020 did that to edtech and healthtech world-over. There is a forced migration to digital learning which is laying bare the underbelly of the much touted Digital India campaign a couple of years ago.
World-over more than 770 million students have been disrupted by COVID19 and the consequent lockdowns globally. The United Nations has warned of the unparalleled scale and speed of the educational disruption being caused by Coronavirus. India has over 37 million students enrolled in higher education. An interruption in the delivery of education has already caused a disruption that might be long-run.
Learning or academics or education broadly has three functions: creation of learning content through research, writing, packaging with visuals; dissemination of learning through classes, lectures, notes, self-study, discussions; & assessment and evaluation of the education of the learner by various methods. All these three have been majorly impacted by the self-isolation imposed to ensure social distancing so that the learners and the mentors may first be protected from the spread of the infection of COVID19. The lockdown across the world is simultaneously a boon and a bane for the teaching-learning community today.
Digital Haves and Have Nots’ Dichotomy
COVID-19 is, in fact, amplifying the struggles that children are already facing globally to receive a quality education. Even before the outbreak of the virus, there were 258 million out-of-school children across the globe — principally due to poverty, poor governance, or living in or having fled an emergency or conflict. While there are programs dedicated to ending the existing crisis in global education, the dramatic escalation that the COVID19 has introduced newer challenges for around 550 million children who were so far studying but do not have access to digital learning systems.
The digitally deprived large chunk of masses- being bereft of access to digital resources like a good internet connectivity, laptop or ipad for use, electric power and smart phone- across the globe are forced to waste productive learning time. The digital divide in every developing and under-developed society was never so glaring as it is now. Though more than 70% of Indian population has been covered now with mobile telephony, the resources needed for digital learning from distance or at home are not there with more than 1 out of 4 people in the country. Same is the case with youths in the formal learning age. This is the bane today.
India has been speaking of digital education for long but it has stayed on as a possibility and not a reality for more than a decade now. Even IITs and IIMs have used digital platforms on the side for sharing of content and debating on issues sporadically. The larger mass of 900 plus universities and some 44,000 colleges have actually not digitized their content, not made access to online learning mainstay of their teaching-learning process, except the distance learning universities. In fact, the old school educationists looked at online and distance education with some disdain all across South Asia. They are in for a major shock now.
Alongside, reality is that the digital penetration across India is still abysmally low beyond tier 1 and 2 cities and towns. It might keep whatsapp running and false content shared, but cannot truly replace face to face learning even remotely. The current pandemic has laid this bare so very poignantly. Hence, while the digital haves use zoom, webex, google class and other webinar platforms to talk, discuss, complete assignments, the digital have nots depend on occasional phone calls from their mentors and at the most a Facebook post or a whatsapp group chat with videos often not downloading.
In Indian context, reality is that 52% of all students from Class V to Post Graduation in the university are now out of any form of education due to closure of campuses and non-availability of access to digital education, and this is more than 150 million students. Remaining 48% have varying degrees of access to digital learning, with only 27% having reasonably good access to technology driven online learning. Similar is the situation in many Asian and African nations, with the challenges being worse for girl students as parents prefer to invest only for sons when they have crisis of resources.