‘Reclaiming Education During A Pandemic’ – High points of the article by ‘Deccan Herald’

In a scenario where the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the education flow of around 1 billion students worldwide, it is indeed a matter of concern. Already more than 80% of our rural India students suffer from historical learning gaps; and this discontinuation of learning will perhaps pile up the gap.

However, schools are trying their best to adapt to the online learning format, government is encouraging digitalization of education as much as possible and edtech companies are on their way to develop a number of innovative, economical and easy-to-understand digital source of learning and inventive solutions which not only will make learning engaging for students but also enhance teachers’ capabilities to put in better efforts connecting with their students at the right node.

Having said this, we came across an article that appeared in the ‘Deccan Herald’ which makes some very relevant suggestions on how schools can reopen, why we need to invest in digital infrastructure and what are the questions we need to ask ourselves to genuinely enable our schools and teachers to tide over these times.

Here, we try to quickly summarize the high points of the article and also try to put in our view points simultaneously:

Article point 1: Since the lockdown began, many children have been pushed towards child labour and early marriages. For a vast majority of children, schools are also a safe space – physically and emotionally; millions also depend on schools for their nutritional needs.

Our analysis: Now, why did children and their parents choose to discontinue learning after schools shut down? Why didn’t they feel the urge to continue learning at home? Probably because they failed to find a source of motivation and engagement. The way mid-day meals kept children motivated to attend school on a constant basis; similarly, there should have been some strong motive that could drive students to take up learning even at home.

Maybe they couldn’t find a proper source of learning. Maybe they did not have the access to electronic devices and digital sources. Even if they did find any repository of learning content, either it could not excite them enough to get glued to it or was far from their budget.

Thus, the focus now should be to make the right sources of education available to everyone at all times at optimized costs.

Article Point 2: The article suggests that schools now should take it as an agenda to propagate awareness about prevention, early identification, support for the elderly, quarantined, sick and infected, seeking accountability from the public health system are critical pieces of community education, essential for meeting this or any other public.

Our analysis: Along with regular curriculum, it is now crucial that schools take up cues from ongoing incidents in and around the society and the world. Not only during this pandemic, but during any crisis in future, schools must promptly include information about the ongoing crisis, what is it all about, the precautions that need to be taken and how can one be protected from it.

For example, schools in Singapore keep including some or the other facts in the curriculum from ongoing incidents in the country. This helps students to remain connected and aware about current scenarios in a much practical way.

As the new education policy lays down that we will be focusing more on defining learning levels at each critical juncture, taking a multi-disciplinary approach, and reducing content by targeting core learning competencies.

With this we hope that we will aggressively move away from ‘rote learning’ towards associative and active learning.

Article point 3: Rather than merely replacing classrooms with online video lectures and downloaded digital content, there must be collaborative learning built up that would include teachers and parents as well. Technology must be used smartly wherein there should be an age-appropriate and meaningful integration of digital tools.

Our analysis: The writer very rightly puts forth the point that simply conducting video lectures won’t serve the purpose. Children anyways aren’t having any physical activities back at their homes during these days. This may tend to build up a state of idleness and lethargic attitude towards learning and life as a whole. So, the energy of the students must be channelled in a significantly powerful manner. Thus, schools must encourage a blend of online and offline learning.

For example, whatever students learn online must be discussed and reviewed by parents as well. The parents can also take initiative to see if the learning can be implemented somewhere practically. Parents can here amend the usage of digital tools. They can search for some fun learning games, pick up topics and ask kids to write down a para about the same. The main idea is to make children get inclined towards active learning rather than just grasping knowledge limited to books.

Article point 4: The writer emphasizes on aspects that schools must focus on. Things that might be the underlying causes of this pandemic:

  • Lifestyles
  • Environmental Degradation
  • Disproportionate impact on the living conditions

Our analysis: Lifestyles, Environmental degradation and disproportionate impact on the living conditions are some alarming factors which stand as primary causes for such a fatal pandemic. To prevent future occurrences like these, we must pave the path aptly for our future generations. This can only happen if we inculcate awareness and alertness among students through their regular curriculums.

Days like ‘Environment Day’, ‘World Nature Conservation Day’, ‘World Ozone Day’ etc. must not only be limited to textbooks and posters. Students must be enlightened through learning in a way that they understand the real significance and are motivated to save the world and environment from further degradation.

Article point 5: Furthermore, the article also mentions that Project-based approach is perhaps the need of the hour. This will allow content-based learning and skill-based that will result in contextually relevant activities. In this context following things would matter utterly:

  • Teacher’s interaction in the form of videos and online forums
  • Prioritizing and reinforcing foundational literacy and numeracy from facilitators from the local community.

Our analysis: There must be a sync between what students study content-wise and what they actually face in their lives. Students must be able to relate their curriculum with the challenges they face in their daily lives. Here, technology can do wonders. Electronic devices like learning tablets which have curriculum-aligned content in them can be handed over to the students. Apart from prescribed syllabus, these devices also provide a personalized pedagogy with illustrations, digital library and interactive videos. Thus, students can be exposed to more and more life-skills videos, stories related to ethics, honesty, hard work, anger management and so on. This can strike a whole new level of knowledge enrichment besides conventional education.

Article point 6: A hybrid model of physical and digital learning, text-based and activity-based learning can encourage:

  • Flexible approach to address potentially iterative school closures and reopenings.
  • Internet safety can also be taken care of along with limiting screen time.

Our analysis: Quite a valid point. Hybrid learning ensures our students get the best of both worlds. Guided learning from their teachers through online or physical classrooms and then personalised learning at home on their devices using the digital content.

Moreover, teachers must be encouraged to acquire new skills with digital tools and processes. They must be empowered and equipped to respond to students’ academic and psychological needs so that the entire concept of online teaching and learning doesn’t end up becoming a matter of petty jokes.

Teachers must have open windows to explore fundamental ideas in education and invest in capacity-building.

Regarding E-Content delivery

Article point 7: The article tries to give a reality check that equity should prevail in all contexts and in all fields:

  • Along with public education and health, digital infrastructure too should be made available as a public utility.
  • Equitable access for elements like – working computers, stable internet, television and radio in schools with community level help
  • Re-imagining content and teaching is inevitable as is an enhanced focus on infrastructure access.

Our analysis: This is a very important point where the author suggests investment in digital infrastructure. The recent commitment from Google and the investments in Jio are an indication that things are bound to improve. It is also the right time for the government to invest in ensuring that we bridge the urban rural digital divide faster than what the natural trajectory would have anyways made it happen.

NEP 2020 also has listed down ‘Equitable and Inclusive Education’ as one of the very crucial points; wherein elements like driving state-level inclusion activities, developing sufficient infrastructure for safety, targeted boarding, set up in aspirational districts, improvement in the quantity and quality of learning  will be paid attention.

With our experience of iDream Learning App, we are increasingly seeing students in rural India adopting to learning from the app. Imagine if this can be scaled. But right now we are limited by the digital divide.

Article point 8: Proprietary digital platforms eroding teacher and student privacy and compromising teacher curricular agency must be replaced with publicly funded open source alternatives and open digital content.

Our analysis: While this is a trend that will emerge where content becomes freely available but that should not happen at the cost of rejecting quality. We should rather encourage startups and organisations who may come up with a commercial model but can truly disrupt the way our rural learners learn.

Therefore, edtech players should try to bring in a beautiful balance where quality, availability, relevancy and accessibility of content should be at par that will truly add value to our students’ competence.

The article concludes pointing out at the fact that the pandemic has nevertheless surfaced certain alarming loopholes in our education system. We need to raise the bar and embrace the following fundamentals:

  • Flexibility
  • Equality
  • Resilience

Below is the link to the original article discussed about:

https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/panorama/reclaiming-education-during-a-pandemic-866035.html

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