Lockdowns worldwide to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic have posed significant challenges for the education sector globally, and India is no exception. The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdown to contain its spread impacted the education sector unprecedentedly. Besides disruption of an academic year and employment opportunities, the pandemic transformed the centuries-old teaching model, the chalk-talk teaching model, into one that is driven by technology. 

The sudden shift away from the classroom and the adoption of online learning was fraught with several difficulties. While technology has been adopted with ease by  the upper and upper-middle class sections and the urban dwellers, the lower-middle-class sections and rural folks have had difficulty making this transition. They were unable to adopt the technology due to many reasons , primary among them are financial constraints and  lack of technical knowledge among parents. Most rural and underprivileged sections do not have access to smartphones. Poor connectivity due to low data speed resulting in non-operation of video classes and poor audio quality are among the significant issues these students face. Most of these students do not have reliable and consistent internet access. Nor do they have laptops or desktops at home. Apart from these technical issues, health concerns are there to deal with. The constant exposure to smartphones causes eye strain, damage of the retina in the eye and brain fog. Other health issues include   stress triggered by  prolonged exposure to electronic devices. 

While the Covid-19 has made online education the buzzword and the new normal, the ground reality suggests that the Indian internet infrastructure is still far from ready to support the shift. According to a 2019 government survey, only 24 percent of households have access to the internet. In rural India, the numbers are far lower, with only 4 percent having access to the internet. Many rural households do not even have access to uninterrupted electricity service. This emphasis on technology-driven education is alienating the children of underprivileged sections. More often than not, it is found that most of the  teachers are also not trained and equipped to deal with this transition from classroom to online teaching. 

Students who are pursuing professional and technical courses found it challenging to keep pace with the curriculum. Physical  interaction with professors replaced virtual interaction. This lack of personalized feedback has made the learning process dull, uninteresting and demotivating.

Specific measures are need of the hour to ensure that a similar situation of a lockdown or a curfew resulting in the closure of educational institutions doesn't occur. A multi-pronged strategy is indeed necessary to tide over the crisis and built a resilient education system in the long run:

  • One, open-source learning solutions and Learning Management Software should be adopted so that teachers can smoothly conduct online classes. Online learning platforms should strengthen further so that it reaches all the States and the Union Territories.
  • Two, if the Indian education system has to transit to online learning without creating a digital divide, the Central and State governments must raise the spending on education. At present, the allocation to the education sector is less than 3 percent. It needs to be at least doubled. 
  • Three, inclusive learning solutions need to be developed, especially for the marginalized and vulnerable sections. With a rapid increase in mobile internet users across the country (one study suggests that mobile internet will reach 85 percent of Indian households by 2024), personalization of education is possible in the remotest parts of the country. It will increase the effectiveness of teaching and learning.
  • Four, it is essential to reconsider pedagogical methods in educational institutions by integrating classroom learning with e-learning modes. This will help build a unified learning system. A significant challenge in educational technology reforms at the national level is the seamless integration of technology in the present education system of India.
  • Five, Indian traditional knowledge is well known worldwide for its scientific innovations, values, and benefits to develop sustainable technologies and medicines. The courses on yoga, Indian medicines, architecture, hydraulics, metallurgy, and agriculture should be integrated with the present-day university education to serve the more significant cause of humanity.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns can hamper India's educational scenario for a long time to come. To prevent this, reforms are essential to make sure that students do not lose out anything academically. A prolonged and unplanned interruptions will shatter the dreams of many bright and talented students. It will also spell economic doom for the country as a long-term lockdown may lead to many underprivileged students dropping out of schools and colleges, thereby leaving the country with a less-educated workforce. To ensure that a similar situation as last year does not rise, the critical collaboration between the public sector, private sector and civil society organizations cannot be overemphasized upon.

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