The Covid-19 pandemic has changed our ways of living and thinking a lot. Today we are not only battling with ways of survival, but we are also bringing changes in the ways we do our daily tasks.
One such area that has gone through a great degree of changes is teaching & learning. All schools, colleges and universities are closed for almost a year and a half because of which the mode of teaching and learning has shifted from physical classroom to online setting.
The advent of online education has made it possible for students with busy lives, limited flexibility and academic resources to obtain the best academic inputs of the world through a single internet connection.
With this, post-pandemic, a new era in the field of education has marked its arrival where greater emphasis is being laid on making the online system a permanent part of the education delivery. The finance minister of India while presenting the Union Budget 2020-21 stressed upon increasing the foreign investment in the Indian education sector which was later adopted in the National Education Policy (NEP), 2020.
In line with this, recently the University Grants Commission (UGC) of India has come up with a policy proposal suggesting more than 40% of a course to be delivered online.
Although suggestions have been sought in this subject and feedbacks have also started coming from the education world, but have we realized the fact that going forward we will be spending almost half of an academic year in electronic classrooms?
Well, according to some arguments this is the new normal and the future of education. But, the success of any education system depends on how it has benefited the people who use it. So, should we not assess this new system of education with open eyes in the true sense?
For this, we should first think that what is learning after all and what does it really mean and how can we assure that learning has happened?
For the assurance of learning to occur, India adopted the system of outcome-based education in 2013 which was much later than the western world who adopted it in the 90s and later by many others which include Hong Kong, Malaysia, the European Union and others.
Now the whole world is designing its educational system based on the theory of William Spady who was considered as a pioneer in this. This educational theory opposes input-based education and focuses on result-oriented thinking where product defines the process and where classes, opportunities and assessments help students achieve the specified outcomes.
Today various national and international education accreditation agencies like NAAC (India), AACCB (USA), AMBA (UK) etc. are emphasizing designing a course curriculum driven by learning outcomes. Learning outcomes work as GPS in an educational setting; once fed they guide teachers and students to follow a pre-decided path so as to reach the desired destination. They give a purpose to an academic unit and provide a transparent pathway for attaining the goal that leads to students’ success. They in fact follow a hierarchy and move progressively from mere remembering concepts to application, analysis, evaluation and creation (Bloom, 1956).
In higher education, we expect our students to be able to achieve more than just declarative knowledge. They are expected to achieve the higher order of learning outcomes which are commonly known as high order critical thinking skills.
But here the bigger question is on the attainment of these higher orders of learning outcomes via online mode. Research provides evidence of impaired learning outcomes in an online teaching environment.
A study published in 2013 proved that students’ persistence to stay connected to a particular course till the end, decreases by a few percentage points while going online instead of face to face.
Similarly, a study conducted by Xu and Jaggers (2013) involving 5lacs courses and 40,000 students in Washington, found that online medium of instruction had significant detrimental effects on learning outcomes of the students across different demographics.
It is proven that the experiential-based learning approach is highly effective in achieving higher degrees of learning outcomes. This approach is merely not limited to classroom teaching; a greater part of it lies in involvement in different activities outside the classroom.
For example, in the field of management when the emphasis is laid on inculcating leadership skills, a bigger question arises – do these leadership skills really come from the classroom? Not exactly; a classroom can make students aware of different theories/styles of leadership. However, a student develops such skills through continuous participation in various events outside the classroom.
Hence, participation in activities outside the classroom is given as much emphasis as on the plans inside the classroom. This is also reflected in every education policy that has always emphasized on the inclusion of different mediums of learning such as classroom environment, laboratories, project work, personal interaction etc.
Eminent educationists/philosophers from the eastern and western countries have always laid importance on not confining the teaching and learning process to classrooms only.
In fact, all these mediums help shape the skills that are essential for solving problems in the real world which is non-linear and complex in nature.
But unfortunately, it is very well observed that during the last year when the classroom shifted to virtual mode, though there have been events organized online, students’ participation and interest level have gone down significantly.
Raghav Gupta, managing director of India and the Asia-pacific region for Coursera showed concern while saying that, “The online model will encourage partnerships, but a key challenge that will continue to face education providers will be producing job-ready graduates”.
Apart from this, it has also been established through research that online education has a profound negative effect on mental health.
An article published by the American Psychological Association in 2020 mentions that children are more prone to face mental health issues due to a lack of friends, teachers and a fixed routine when they are not able to go to physical premises. According to his research, the physical campus has an important contribution to the educational motivation and social development of the students.
A recent study conducted by Coman et al. (2020) reported that students are dissatisfied with the unbalanced task allocation and teaching styles along with a low level of interaction with teachers and their peers in an online teaching environment during the pandemic.
Research conducted at the University of Michigan found that when students feel that they have caring friends and teachers around, they do their tasks with more interest. The ill-effects of a teacher’s absence on such a learning process have been identified and discussed for years.
A study in the 90s published in the journal First Monday reported that physical absenteeism of the teacher, lack of prompt teacher feedback, unclear instructions on the web, and technical problems result in failure of students in an electronic classroom which further leads to disappointment and disruption of the entire educational environment.
These findings raise serious doubts over the effectiveness of the online mode of teaching and learning especially in a case where today except top class Indian institutions, every other is struggling with mediocre quality of digital infrastructure.
In a country like India, where we have witnessed a lesser enrolment percentage in higher education for decades, will this online mode of instruction improve this figure or it will prove to be further detrimental! The detrimental effect is evident from the fact that there has been a significant fall in the number of applications across different streams of higher education and it is more profound in the case of professional/technical education.
On the contrary, if we believe that via online education we can inculcate skills like self-management among students and, by any chance, if we are keeping aside our handicapped higher education digital infrastructure, then are we bypassing the provision of our inclusive education?
Although the proposed system will open the market for ed-tech companies in India, we cannot ignore the different pace and style of learning among the students.
When we say that by 2030 India is set to have the largest working-age population in the world and if we go by the speech of the Finance Minister on making the youth more employable by the democratization of Higher education, then aren’t we pushing ourselves to become a typical knowledge-based system rather than a welfare focused system?
If not, then surely apart from deciding on digital infrastructure and futuristic tie-ups with big education giants we have to strengthen our preparation for making a generation who is more satisfied with emotional wellbeing than just getting employed only and are more targeted towards their goals.
It is time to rethink and revisit the real meaning of learning and its outcomes.
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