Today, the world is struggling with the worst health crisis COVID-19. The normalcy of the educational sector is highly disrupted post the nationwide lockdown imposed. Institutions are trying to mitigate the situation using virtual platforms to minimize the ill-effects of this shutdown on students. India has the world’s largest young population in the age bracket of 5 to 24 years, which accounts for the huge pool of students enrolled in the formal system of education.
The COVID-19 outbreak has accelerated online education, as per a recent report by UNESCO, more than 91% of the world’s student population has been affected. India has extended lockdown for the third time till 17th May, educational institutions are under a temporary closure to contain the pandemic spread which is impacting over 320 million learners in the country.
Institutions are seeking help from online platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, WhatsApp, Google Meet, etc., in order to provide recorded and live classes to their students. Although, institutes are trying their best to teach the students in this crisis, at the same time we have to see into the infrastructural challenges that prevail in different parts of the country due to variation in the connectivity of the internet, availability of digital devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops, computers, etc. There is a number of alternative steps are being taken by the teachers which also involves extra efforts, like sharing short recorded videos through WhatsApp, sending scanned copies of reading materials over email, so that small sized files ensure data saving and connectivity problem reducing the cost of data packs.
A number of tools are offered by the leading multinational technology companies to ensure continuity of courses during the period of lockdown. Google Meet which is a video conferencing app from Google allowing 250 participants at a time has made its premium features available for free till September 30. Zoom, another video conferencing app allowing its users an unlimited number of meetings.
India has emerged as the second-largest market for e-learning after the US, proactive measures are being taken by the number of startups like Indian Educational technology (Edtech) by providing online materials to ensure obstruction-free learning during a pandemic. The deteriorating quality of school education led to the emergence of such online educating platforms- BYJU’s, Unacademy, Vedantu. These Edutechs have now spread across the country by introducing interesting, innovative, and interactive learning modules to supplement and reinforce the learning of the students. These platforms came up with a number of offers to ensure continuous learning of students during the lockdown.
Vedantu, an online tutoring platform partnered with schools in Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Delhi, and some cities of Kerala which enable teachers to use its platform for offering live lectures to their students. BYJU’s, a Bangalore based educational technology is now the world’s most highly valued tech company, has announced to offer free access to students of class 1 to 12, until the April end. Similarly, Unacademy announced to conduct free live classes for UPSC, Banking, Railway exams, and many others, conducting over 700 live classes per day.
As a consequence of the lockdown, every sector is experiencing a rapid decline, it is the online education companies in India which are witnessing a surge in the number of new users. Since announcing free live lectures on its app, BYJU has observed a 200% increase in the number of new users. (World Economic Forum, 29 April 2020) Unacademy witnessed triple growth in terms of its users watching free live classes in the month of March, after opening their platform for conducting classes free of cost without any time limitation.
The government is also taking steps to promote online education in India, on 10th April 2020 a week-long ‘Bharat Padhe Online’ campaign was launched by the Union Minister for HRD Shri Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ for crowdsourcing of ideas for improving the online education ecosystem of India. (PIB, 13 April 2020)
Other notable steps taken by the government are e-pathshala developed by NCERT to promote and disseminate educational e-resources. Study Webs of Active Learning for Young Aspiring Minds (SWAYAM) is an online portal with courses for high school (classes 9-12), to undergraduate and post-graduate levels. National Digital Library of India (NDL) is an online repository with over 15 million digital books available online.
There is no doubt that online learning platforms are a boon in the current scenario, but still, a question arises in the mind about the scope of e-learning platforms. Online learning is an effective way for those who have access to internet facilities, but its effectiveness varies with the age group, for example, young children need a structured learning environment as they get easily distracted, thus there should be physical engagement. According to Mrinal Mohit of BYJU’s children exclusively use their senses to learn thus making learning fun and effective through the use of technology is crucial.
Extensive use of technology also leads to a number of health issues, nowadays coaching centers of various competitive exams which are famous for their immense efforts, trying to give their best through online platform. Due to which students are spending a substantial amount of time on digital devices which may have a significant impact on their psychological and physical health.
Depression, anxiety, eye strain, and sleeping problem are some of the health issues develop due to continuous exposure to screen light, also use of mobile and computers may contribute to incorrect posture, over time this may lead to musculoskeletal issues.
But there is no other alternative for the educational sector to keep the continuity in learning during this critical period, all that we can do is to wait till normalcy restores.
STAY SAFE, STAY AT HOME!