An Opportunity amidst the Challenges
| Dr Neelam Gupta, Thought Leader, Delhi, NCR - 08 Sep 2020


International Literacy Day 2020 is uniquely significant. While it marks a disruption in global education scenario, it also opens an opportunity to fast forward the technology-enabled teaching learning systems which could bridge the gaps in Education and pave way to Universalization of Education and SDG4 earlier than we may expect. 

By Dr. Neelam Gupta

154 crore students have been severely impacted by closure of educational institutions across the world amid the COVID-19 outbreak, as per UNESCO estimates. More than 100 countries have implemented nationwide closures, impacting over half of world’s student population. It is causing one of the biggest disruptions in the Education sector, across the globe. As with many other adversities, the weak and the underprivileged are worst hit. Girls are likely to suffer more, entrenching gender gaps.

As governments and institutions are trying to cope with the new scenario, the world is witnessing a centuries-old, chalk-talk teaching model being transformed into a technology-driven system to deliver teaching-learning. Thechange is being hailed as anew trendin a post-Covid-19 worldthat will positively impact the education domain. But, there is a challenge of inadequate and inequitable access to the technology and social infrastructure needed for digital and virtual education. Though we have invested in physical educational infrastructure, such as school buildings, COVID pandemic has highlighted the need for an investment intechnology infrastructure and the support system for all students to successfully learn with digital technology. Students without reliable, fast internet and suitable devices would face severe disadvantages in the shift to virtual education.

International Literacy Day 2020, falling on 8th September focuses on “Literacy teaching and learning in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.” It focuses on youth and adults highlighting learning as a lifelong learning perspective. In India we have been challenged with low literacy, lowstatus of education and low learning outcomes.Survey released by National Statistical Office (NSO) on 7 September 2020, pegs India’s overall literacy at 77.7% (2017-18). Though there’s an improvement of 4 per cent since the last data (Census 2011), the road to 100 per cent literacy is still long and treacherous as one fourth of our population is reportedly illiterate.

International Literacy Day 2020 is unique in many ways. While it marks a disruption in global education scenario, it also opens an opportunity to fast forward the technology-enabled teaching-learning systems which could bridge the gaps in Education and pave way to Universalization of Education and SDG4 earlier than we may expect. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the existing gap between policy discourse and reality has come to notice amongst the educators across the globe. This gap, already prevalent in the society in pre-COVID-19 era, negatively affects the learning of youth and adults, who end up with no or low literacy skills, and therefore, tend to face multiple disadvantages.Several attempts have been made to bridge this gap, but the progress has been far too slow.

Though COVID 19 pandemic has been an unprecedented disaster for the world, but it seems to be a blessing in disguise for the much-needed thrust towards the digitisation of education pedagogy in India. The lockdown has accelerated adoption of digital technology, which can give an impetus to universalization of education. Schools, educational institutes, analytics, computer, data management methods and online education solutions have been forced to work in tandem, and improve quality and delivery time to handle such situations.

NEP2020, the latest Education Policy released by the Government has technology-enabled education at the heart of implementation. Now, appears to be an ideal time to experiment and deploy new tools to make education delivery meaningful to students who can’t go to campuses. It’s a chance to be more efficient and productive while developing new and improved professional skills/knowledge through online learning and assessment.Use of technology in education would resultin innovative concepts in the system, for instance the move from teacher-centric education to student-centric education.

The new methodology shall be serving mutual interests to both student and the teacher. Not only the virtual classrooms reduce the exorbitant overhead of running a physical school, the recurring costs of buying stationaries, dresses, conveyance, etc., shall also be reduced for the ward and their parents. The planning to put the systems in place is taking shape slowly and the target to make the virtual classrooms and the engagement between the teacher and students as close to a real is being implemented.The solutions to students’ doubts shall be just a click away. Going forward, these tools can also make the teachers and parent meetings as well as staff/management meetings more time and cost saving while providing the necessary interactivity. 

Technology-based education is more transparent and does not make a difference in front vs. back benchers or girls vs. boys.Pedagogy in digital education is an important link between course content, educationists, technology and course-takers. Going forward, the use of technology in teaching or recruitment will lead to a new era wherein the best of faculty will be available from across the globe to students.Most importantly, once the mandatory infrastructure is ensured, especially at the rural set up, the physical barrier of unavailability of a school, a trained teacher, opportunities to a bright future, transparent assessment, capacity building and cross learning shall be mitigated immediately.

Although everyone is boasting high of the technological revolution in the education system, but we also need to understand the crisis, this sudden shoving of education into digital mode has caused. According to the Key Indicators of Household Social Consumption on Education in India report, based on the 2017-18 National Sample Survey, less than 15 per cent of rural Indian households have Internet (as opposed to 42 per cent urban Indian households). A mere 13 per cent of people surveyed (aged above five) in rural areas — just 8.5 per cent of females could use the Internet. The poorest households cannot afford a smartphone or a computer. Though universal digital education would be beneficial in the longer run,due to lower physical barriers, but achieving this can be a huge challenge, especially when a large chunk of socio-economically weaker children are enrolled in government schools in cities and villages, who are already in financial crisis due to lockdown and cannot afford requisites of digital learning like smart phones or laptops.

Not only learners, schools and educational institutions are also struggling to have an access to the required infrastructure like internet connectivity, telecom infrastructure, affordability of online system, availability of laptop/desktop, software, educational tools, online assessment tools, etc. Teachers at the schools are not well equipped with the gadgets, so the first thing required shall be the capacity building of the teachers.

Government of India is taking every possible step to make this shift as swift as possible, publishing information on various initiatives undertaken by ministries like MHRD and its Department of Technical Education, NCERT and others to support and benefit youth and students. It has created infrastructure to deliver e-education, which includes National Knowledge Network (NKN), National Project on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL), National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology (NMEICT), National Academic Depository (NAD), among others.  All these enhance ability to connect easily with institutions and improve access to learning resources.

NEP 2020 having its focus on digitization as the core of new ‘Teaching Learning Methodology’ emphasizes on skills and outcome-based learning over the theoretical mugging of the curriculum. The Policy has delved upon the modus operandi that shall be followed to gain this shift. Along with a cohesion in public-private partnerships, proper remedial measures are to be taken with a sense of urgency to create better learning environments for rural and backward children enabling them to realise their full potential while participating in the nation building process and harnessing our demographic divided. 

One of the key aspects of coping with Covid-19 is to ensure that the learning for all continues, even though virtually. This could be an ideal time to accept technology and its latest offerings in order to make education delivery to students more efficient and make it more productive through online teaching-learning, and assessments. COVID 19 is an opportunity amidst the challenges to bridge the gaps in our teaching-learning and skilling ecosystem as technology makes learning opportunities more universal. We must put a quick model in place, engaging all actors and stakeholders to reach out with technology to each and every learner in our country. It would then result in a true revolution of the system and India could easily achieve its dream of becoming a global super economy and a super leader.

(Dr. Neelam Gupta, Founder of AROH Foundation, an NGO working to empower poor and alleviate poverty, is a prominent thought leader and a prolific writer expressing her opinion on a variety of topics like education, gender, culture, livelihood, social development, etc.

Image courtesy – AROH Foundation


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