It is clear that going ahead digital access will be a human right, and those in governance must wake up to the reality that youngsters need inexpensive tablets and easy data access. A nation that spends less than 3% of national budget for public education (lower than Tanzania, Angola and Ghana, et al), with the states putting in 2.5 (Bihar) to 26% (Delhi), with Delhi being the only state in double digits, cannot ensure digital education for the masses.
The pandemic has made it imperative ahead that entire education of India has to be a blended one with digital access and tools (device and internet) reaching the hands of learners in the most remote parts as well. This can only be aimed for with a minimum of 7% of budget for public education, upgradation on public education infra-structure, physically and digitally, and a massive retraining of the teachers at every level, letting the dinosaurs among teachers go in the interest of the learners.
If there was no enforced social distancing and students home-locked across the nation (and the globe), the transition of those with partial or full resources to complete digital learning pedagogy would not have been quickened. The process now has to move ahead to the next stage to bring in policy changes on allocation, training, infrastructure, pedagogy and evaluation process of education. The New Education Policy, announced recently, has called for 6% of GDP for education in India, but the reality till date is lesser than 3% of GDP.
This will bring in unforeseen impact on public education. In a blended form, learners seek education voluntarily and collaboratively. Each lesson or skill or chapter is expected to lead to an outcome, a model, a design, a solution, a performance or an application, either simulated or real life. Education is not to be instructed, but explored organically, not to be imposed but experienced collectively fostering diversity, teamwork and mutual respect. These values today are only present by exception, which the current crisis may once again ignite. The post COVID learners even in public education system can be of a different breed fuelled by digital expectations.
Apart from government spending, there is also the need to allocate mandatory 2% of profits of corporate India for investing in creating digital access to India at large. Further, telecom companies need to come out with special packages for students and teachers with regards to internet access. And, in the people’s sector, non-government organizations should roll out voluntary support to digital access for all Indians through movements like 1 Million Mobiles (donating discarded but functioning older cell phones from every home to the less privileged) and donate computers and IT infrastructure hours of private educational institutes with good IT infrastructure. These all together, along with much higher government spending in public education, can make the entire nation digitally connected.
Digital Learning Tools Today:
The pandemic requires universities to rapidly offer online learning to their students. Fortunately, technology and content are available to help universities transition online quickly and with high quality, especially on the digital plank, though at a cost and with the risk of several teachers and administrators being forced to go out of the system.
Digital learning on the go or from distance calls for tech-led holistic solutions. It requires several content pieces to be transmitted digitally. These content pieces can be in the form of pdfs, ppts, URLs, YouTube links, podcast links, case-studies, etc. There can also be e-books, audio-books, kindle based content, magzter sourced magazines, etc. Then this can involve learning without being face to face through boxes, as in Google Class, or learning face to face as in Zoom live audio-visual discussions. People may also use GoToMeetings or MicrosoftMeet sessions also. Attendance can be taken on Google Spreadsheet and through Whatsapp Group chat of a batch of students too.
There are other tools that can take digital go miles ahead. Flipped classroom method with an active learning classroom can have all study resources given a day or two in advance, and the actual session starting with a quick quiz, then doubts clearance, and thereafter a few issues of the future or counter points to what were given earlier, like possible different scenarios or new research findings not shared earlier. This is quite an effective way of learning, which is internalized, collaborative, experiential, bottom-up, as distinctly different from teaching, which is instructional, hierarchic and top-down.
Then there are MOOCs, collaborative distance learning, wikis, blogs etc. Individual resource-rich institutes develop their customized secured and IPR protected Learning Management Systems, through the use of BlackBoard or TCSion LMS. Other LMS options like Kaltura or Impartus allowing video recording of talks also ar in use in many places. There are CourseEra courses, Swayam online lessons from UGC and similar other avenues to learn online.
Learning digitally can be further assisted with Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR) which can take the viewer to an enhanced experience even integrating scenarios which are yet to happen creatively bringing them within the learning experience. These are immersive and contextual experiences, and artificial intelligence driven chatbots can further enhance the digital interface of the learner and the mentor.