There is an urgent need for educational institutions in India to evolve and develop suitable strategies and alternative arrangements to compensate the loss faced by the students and parents following the drawbacks in online education amid the prevailing Covid circumstances and the great divide in the society. On account of the prevailing circumstances, the truth about the spread of Coronavirus infection is becoming a matter of great debate in the world’s second-largest populous nation—India. The trust deficit seems to emanate from the government’s mandate for preventing COVID on one hand and the holding of election rallies by the responsible functionaries of the government at the Centre and states in the assembly elections underway in five states as well as those held in the year 2020, on the other. Different states are professing for night curfew, reducing attendance at workplaces, closure of educational institutions, stringent enforcement of COVID prevention norms, etc to handle the reported upsurge in COVID infection. Simultaneously, the aggressive campaign for vaccinating the citizens is also in progress. Unequivocally, the commitment of the government at Centre and states to preventing the spread of COVID by enforcement of certain measures and expedient delivery of vaccines as per norms cannot be questioned.
Changed Perception of Online Education
The recent protests by the students, teachers, and management of educational institutions together against the proclaimed closure of institutions while compelling them to go for the online mode of education reveal contrasting public perception. Looking back, it is evident that the educational institutions were closed since the first lockdown in March 2020, and the education system struggled for its continued delivery through online mode followed by the online or proforma assessment to promote students to the next higher class.
With time, the stakeholders understood the limitations of the much-hyped online mode of education delivery in India reeling under significant digital divide owing to the varying socio-economic conditions, lack of requisite IT infrastructure, absence of peer interactions, and facilities at the institution & student ends. By now, there are well-settled arguments against the efficacy of online education deliveries due to the poor quality of learning from it along with questionable integrity of the learning assessment mechanisms.
Undoubtedly, the teachers and students both are convinced that it is extremely difficult to acquire the requisite knowledge and learning levels through online teaching. As a result, with the COVID settling down, all stakeholders desperately wanted the educational institutions to open and the resumption of offline classes was welcomed.
Endangered Viability of Self-Financed Education System
The COVID-driven closure in the past has seen that the teachers and staff in the self-financed education institutions faced crisis of non-payment of salaries to them. The inadequate receipt of the fees from students led to the insufficiency of funds with the management to pay the salaries at par with pre-COVID times. In the absence of any source of funding except student fees in self-financed institution, this fear of non-payment of salaries to teachers and staff of the institution is not unfounded. Thence the closure of institution will not affect the financial receipts of the management, teachers, and staff till the student fees keep pouring in at the normal rate. But the possibility of reduction of receipts on account of relaxation to students for reduced/delayed fee payment to the institution because of the poor economic conditions of parents/guardians from COVID centric closures cannot be ruled out and thus questioning the viability of survival of self-financed institutions.
Cues from Online Classes and Offline Examinations
As the lockdown got relaxed gradually in the last one year, the regulators started devising a suitable mechanism for assessing the learning levels of the students in respective courses. The offline examinations were held with necessary arrangements in educational institutions. Nevertheless, in the number of programs and classes, the students were promoted without examination.
In view of lesser learning from online classes, the education system constantly observed the demand of the students for not holding offline examinations for online teaching. Finally, the system prevailed and the conduction of offline examination after the online classes, made the students think that their final assessment warrants adequate learning with them.
Also, the conduction of competitive examinations for the students aspiring for higher education as well as for jobs in offline mode sensitized them about the fact that eventually, the requisite knowledge and learning levels are essentially required to succeed.
Absence of Arrangements to Compensate Learning Losses
Seemingly, the prominent worry of the students is about the learning loss incurred in the online mode of teaching. The inadequacy of learning in online teaching is evinced through various media reports. This learning gap is immensely important and needs to be taken care of by the education providers before marching the students to the next levels.
Nonetheless, the conspicuous absence of any institutional arrangements for overcoming the learning deficiencies nucleates a feeling that those who are offered online education will ultimately be losers vis-a-vis those who will take the same in offline mode later after the pandemic is over.
With the competitions becoming stiffer day by day, the students are becoming increasingly conscious about their knowledge from respective course/programme. Thus, it is pertinent for educational institutions to evolve suitable strategies to overcome the learning gaps created on account of the compelling circumstances in which online education is continued.
The point of view of students, teachers, and those running the education institutions about the losses incurring in terms of knowledge, salaries, and other financial receipts for ensuring institutional viability respectively is essential.
Also, the changing perspective of the stakeholders about takeaways from online education necessitates serious thinking at the level of regulating bodies and educational institutions for delineating well-laid holistic regulations to ensure that the students get ample opportunities to equip themselves with prescribed knowledge to remain at par with those who are taught in post-pandemic era.
It seems inevitable to practice living with the disease in an appropriately crafted education framework and not disrupt the education as and when.