The lockdowns imposed in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus has forced several educational institutes to remain shut since March 2020. They even remain at the bottom of the list for reopening, considering the impossibility of social distancing in schools and colleges. Thus, millions of students have returned home, where after a lengthy break in the hope of recovery, sessions have resumed mostly through online platforms. Several factors will be affecting the education patterns in India.
Major online platforms such as Zoom have been extensively used as a method to teach during the past few months. Though major materials of the coursework can be integrated into online platforms, complete involvement might never be possible. Mathematical and practical lectures cannot be conducted with the same efficiency as classroom interactions. Again, the classroom experience is a much important factor.
Another issue is that not all institutes in India have a robust online system due to several reasons. Institutions in rural India are completely shut, as they are still scarcely covered by internet penetration, creating a digital divide in the rural-urban context. Several incidences of students unable to attend classes have been trending online. In some instance, teachers are bullied and bear the brunt of the technological gap.
Thus, in a poverty-ridden country, the possibility of learning through advanced techniques is still a difficulty for several households. Indian Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF) indicates that only 18% of the entire population has access to a smartphone, which is largely insufficient, considering the huge student population in India.
The next major impact is on students in institutes of higher education who are primarily related to research-based learning. Though the internet can be a vast source of information, practical exposure and primary data collection have its comparative benefit. Due to interstate movement restricted, telephonic surveys or online interviews can be the ‘new normal’. They, however, can be challenging as telephonic interviews might always not be appreciated by the interviewee.
Connectivity may be an issue in research related to rural regions of the country. Lab-based researches say for biochemistry or physics, are completely stalled due to lockdowns. The impact increases even more if the projects are time-bound. Again, mentorship is most beneficial in face-to-face correspondence for experiential learning.
Another possibility is a psychological impact arising directly due to the pandemic. The 21st century has never experienced an event of this magnitude; hence, it is very unlikely to be sure about the course of the virus. Some researches even indicate that by late-February 2021, there may be 2.5 lakh daily cases if the situations do not improve. The most important question is, how will students’ mental health be impacted due to this?
The student population can be divided into two groups; schools and colleges. The most adverse impact is on the student group who have possibly attempted a board exam, say for class 10 or 12. Most students have not been able to finish all their papers due to the restrictions imposed in the middle of the exam season.
Thus, examination boards are forced to use an averaging procedure based on completed papers. This may lead to an improper evaluation, but it’s the only possible option. Though appreciated by several students, there still exists a group that is against it. If the papers completed comprise of subjects that are difficult for the student, the averaging method may lead to decreasing grades.
Students, especially those appearing for their final year exams, are likely to have huge mental stress. As a majority of entrance examinations remain cancelled, several students are unsure regarding their higher education. A similar situation is seen in graduating students looking for placement opportunities after college.
The job market is most likely to get disrupted, leading to a possible spill-over effect. Thus, as enrolment in colleges remain low, with new semesters being cancelled and job opportunities reducing, the impact may be temporary but lead to long term disruptions in the education system.
One positive impact has been in terms of skill enhancements of students who are not related to any research-oriented work. Though this comprises a very small group, they have been able to exploit a few resources efficiently. Numerous online programs and certificate courses have been launched in the past few months that have led to diversified learning. A few courses from top universities of the world are even designed for beginner level students who are not related to the subject at all. Thus, a student of Economics can learn about the epidemiology of the Coronavirus.
Thus, we can say that not only the economy but also the education sector has been adversely affected due to the pandemic. Given the present situation, schools and colleges are most vulnerable as mass gathering cannot be avoided. Thus, what is required is a more resilient education system, which practices ‘informed decision making, creative problem solving, and most importantly, adaptability’.