10 MAY,2021 | MEDC
Covid has had an unprecedented impact on the education system worldwide. The unprecedented closure of educational facilities has forced the shift to online learning almost overnight. In India, hardly anyone was prepared for this dramatic change. We are now facing another wave of the Covid outbreak, and so it seems that digital learning is here to stay. That is not necessarily a bad thing, if we know how to convert a crisis into an opportunity. It is a wake-up call for our education system, which is already struggling to live up to expectations. Digital skills can significantly enhance traditional learning practices and transform learning at the scale needed to reduce poverty and inequality in India. As India already has a high smartphone penetration, this is the device policymakers could use to access the internet. The challenge is to ensure that broadband connectivity reaches far-flung parts of the country and revitalizes knowledge systems everywhere. Digital learning can be transformational as it changes both the way teachers impart knowledge and students imbibe it. Even after Covid is over, the traditional educational system can coexist with digital learning.
Challenges of digital learning
India already has high socioeconomic inequality and – at least in the initial stages – digital learning is likely to accentuate it. Many students – especially in rural areas – lack the technical connectivity required to benefit adequately from digital learning. With most Indian teachers being unprepared for an online environment, teacher training also remains a major issue. This could be resolved using technology and blended leaning, as well as enlightened government policy in implementing measures to support and incentivize teachers to reinvent themselves for coping with the new educational realities.
For those who do have access to the right technologies, there is evidence that digital learning can be highly beneficial. This is especially so in imaginative disciplines like Mathematics and Physics wherein animated computer graphics can help explain complex concepts in a way that is just not possible with pen and paper. With the right software, students will be able to learn faster (and retain more of what they learn) as compared to the traditional methods of instruction. It has the added advantage of allowing students to learn at their own pace, going back and re-reading, skipping, or accelerating through concepts as they choose.
Since children use their senses extensively to learn, making learning fun and meaningful through an effective use of digital technology is critical. Innovatively devised integration of games with reality will ensure that children do not find learning a chore, but actually enjoy it. Schools need to seriously think how to discontinue focus on traditional modes of imparting knowledge, and turn to new tools to fire the curiosity and engagement of students. No doubt, there will be losses in the process, but the gains can be made to outweigh them.
Covid is an inflection point for rapid innovation in our education system. If we fail to maximize this opportunity, we will have ourselves to blame. The pandemic has shown that digital channels have the potential to transmit knowledge and information at a speed and scale vastly superior to any other way. We need to know how to explore its full potential to enhance our education system in the direction of quality and global competitiveness. The transition to digital learning won’t be easy, but it is certainly worth the effort.