The nationwide lockdown in response to covid19 has forced more than 300 Million Indian students to stay at home. Although many of India’s shuttered schools and colleges have started online classes for their students, there is still vast numbers of kids who have been left out in the cold.
Virtual classrooms work on the assumption that every student has fast access to the Internet, a laptop or smartphone, or even a reliable electricity connection. Current estimates show that out of India’s 1.2 Billion population, only 600 million are connected to the Internet, mostly via smartphones. This creates a huge barrier for students (especially in rural areas) to access online education during this lockdown. As the academic year progresses on the same schedule across India, these unconnected students fall further behind their connected peers as classes proceed online. Even those with internet connections may not be able to access the 4G speeds needed to view online streaming video lectures.
For those students with basic internet connectivity, teachers could record their lectures and upload them on YouTube. They can then email the YouTube links to their students who can download the videos for viewing offline. This method does not require a fast broadband connection. Additionally, Doordarshan has been beaming educational content via their channels Gyan Darshan & Vyas. Schools/Colleges could match their semester schedule based on when the respective programs are beamed on these channels. Another option would be for schools/colleges to have audio lectures through a telephone-based conference call facility.
However, if the Indian government wants to truly enable online education for all, it should consider supplying free basic smartphones and data plans for under resourced people in rural areas. It could even offer tax breaks for companies and individuals to donate funds for these much-needed devices and data. The government should also more widely publicize the free educational content they have on their portal Swayam, as a vast number of Indians may not be aware of it.
Another barrier to penetration of online education is that the vast majority of learning materials (videos, animations and documents) are in the English language, which only 10% of the Indian population fully understand. Most Indians consume vernacular entertainment videos online rather than English content. EdTech companies should start creating education materials in the major vernacular languages in India. They would also be able to access a vast untapped market of potential paying customers as many of these languages have millions of speakers like Hindi (322 Million), Bengali (96 Million), Marathi (82 Million), Telegu (80 Million) & Tamil (68 Million).
Change in teaching methods
A majority of teachers are used to lecturing for 45 minutes using a blackboard and textbooks. Due to the lower attention spans that students have online, teachers will have to change their methods for online classes. They should not be just speaking for 45 minutes as students will lose interest and may not pick up the information being shared. Faculty should try to play online videos, animations and presentations by sharing their laptop screens online to keep students interested.
For the long term
Once educational institutions reopen post the lockdown, they should not go back to the same classroom based “chalk and talk” teaching model. They should consider incorporating education technology to enhance their pedagogy. One possibility is incorporating a “flipped classroom” approach, where students study subject theories via materials on their smartphone at home in advance of the classroom session. At the classroom itself, the teacher facilitates interactive exercises, discussions and simulations that facilitate student learning of the material studied in advance. This will ensure better understanding of the subject matter in a fun & interactive way.
Regardless of what happens post covid19 lockdown, the importance of facilitating online education for every Indian has been pushed to the forefront. Only with the combined efforts of the government, NGOs, EdTech companies and educational institutions can this come to fruition.