How has Covid-19 affected the Indian education scenario?
The Covid-19 outbreak has disrupted children’s lives, pushed out many and stalled classes and examinations across the country. To ensure students do not miss out on studies, schools moved classes online, forcing them to attend lectures, do assignments and give their tests via gadgets. However, this sparked a debate on whether the increased amount of solitary screen time helps students learn or if it impedes their progress, including their social and emotional well-being, and more importantly if this was indeed education.
Has technology been a saviour?
Online ‘success’ is not something we can announce as a reality simply because education cannot be on transmission mode, with a switch on and off button. Education must take stock of dehumanising disruption to students and families. You cannot just bring in technology and say it is business as usual. We have to see if students’ entitlements are being compromised. We must provide meaningful academic curriculum alternatives. This is not a concern that is exclusive to India alone but there has to be some effort to personalise education, create safe spaces, bring in context specific alterations rather than just have a general modus operandi and applaud it as a grand success.
Digital education is not education. It cannot substitute for real learning. Teachers are feeling trapped and enslaved to a system that encourages coaching not teaching. The entire process is disconcerting. Students learn more from each other, while engaging in challenging collective tasks and thinking together. Staring at a screen or blackboard, learners do not think, question, argue, discuss but only act as remote receptors of what is beamed.
How can we ensure learning by technology is inclusive and participatory?
It is important to nurture every child’s confidence by doing things together and not being alone through this. There must be more group activity and meaningful work. Education is not about competence but more about motivation. We have to step back to see how we are imposing a methodology on students who are not geared to participate. The IT industry has boomed during this time but how are they providers of ‘education’? Can they substitute for teachers? It’s more about the technology market, not the quality of learning.
There has to be greater empathy from the system and policy makers. Parents themselves coping with the crisis should have greater support. There has to be more work with teachers. The system cannot heartlessly push them to complete the syllabus. In fact students are meant to discover not cover a syllabus. The long efforts to shift from a mechanical chalk and talk method will be lost if the online transmission model becomes a norm.
The complete onus of the system has been transferred to the parent and child forcing online classes as their inescapable reality. There has been no dialogue or discussion, no thoughtful listening to and caring appraisal of people’s situations while exploring options and possibilities.
What must we expect from the Right to Education (RTE) and the National Education Policy (NEP)?
Most shocking has been the passing of an NEP right in the middle of the pandemic, where, significantly, the pandemic finds mention only in the added chapter on online and digital education. The policy contradicts the provisions of RTE and goes against children’s fundamental rights.
The NEP 2020 focusses on centralisation of education through a National Assessment Centre and a national essential curriculum. Education is a concurrent subject where states have a constitutional role in making policies and developing curricula. Children in diverse and disparate conditions must be the focus, through decentralised, contextualised and compassionate decision making.
What are the major concerns that you see in a post-Covid world?
There have to be more creative experiments that allow patience, nurturing and trust in a classroom. To declare a zero year exacerbates a sense of hopelessness, so it’s good that the academic timetable is being flexibly rescheduled and options explored in collaboration with schools, teachers and parents. Like coming to school on alternate days, having classes and activities in the open, or staggering physical interactions.
In countries like India which have such wide income disparities, different models must be discussed. We need to rethink education in a way that is relevant to us, to reboot and try new things. I would like to underline that all possible resources and genuine efforts must be invested to ensure every child gets good quality equitable education as a fundamental right. For this we need a visible commitment towards a robust, responsive and inclusive government education system.