Education for decades has been about degrees, the scores, the percentages, the rankings in board exams, government exams, different entrance exams, SAT scores, different certifications and so on.
The brand of the organisation has been a priority for some sections of society when it comes to education whereas just finishing school or completing graduation has been a priority of some others. A certain section of society is still deprived of education.
The cost of education, the ultimate outcomes: types of exposures, opportunities, the respect in society, the income earned after acquiring the education have been important factors in the choice of parents sending children to school, the type of school and for how long, parents occupation and so on.
The education sector especially the private schools and colleges or tuition centers have seen more profits due to increased demand for educational services by those who can afford them or those who want to or can afford to pay back the loans borrowed in the hope of providing better education and improved quality of life.
Most private schools, colleges and tuition centers that provided the regular academic trainings as well as after school programs in academics or extracurricular activities have been building models around content quantity rather than quality because of the prices charged from parents, because of the need to show the success of the "latest," "innovative" and "beneficial" methods developed or implemented by them.
As a result, a lot of children tend to look forward to school or college only because they get to meet friends, they get to socialise, they get to play on the ground or for some because they get platforms to showcase their talents. The pandemic has brought to light the fact that most children are not interested in studies at school or college, that the quality isn't good enough. The fact that children tend to switch off their videos, play pranks, watch videos or play games, giving excuses of bad internet connection during online classes is a proof of the poor quality of education imparted.
If they are disciplined in the online classes then it's mostly due to the fear- fear of parents, fear of teachers, fear of bad marks, fear of being scolded, fear of failure, fear of not having enough attendance and so on. The love of and for learning is seen in a very small percentage of students. For some, online education is interesting because they see a better quality of content representation, better mode of interaction, more relaxed and comfortable environment. The pandemic has proved that the focus of schools need to be on methodology, the content delivery rather than content quantity or the beautiful presentations, posters, videos etc.
The use of technology by schools and colleges going forward in 2021 in online education has to be more about the students virtual interaction with the teacher as well as the other students. It has to be more about the experience of the students and using appropriate platforms and resources to create an engaging learning environment.
School and college managements must invest in providing quality equipments, proper internet connection and intensive solid trainings to teachers in not just using a platform like zoom, google meets or any LMS but on strategies for delivering content to different age groups effectively and if possible with analytics being generated to measure impact and at the same time getting feedback from parents, students and other stakeholders.
Training teachers in understanding behavioural science, social and cognitive development in children and the use of technology during online classes would help ensure that online classes are effective, children get an engaging learning environment and teachers feel happier, valued, appreciated by students, by parents and by the management.
Parents have raised concerns or in some cases complained about the fees amounts and fees structures and rightly so if the students keep having internet issues or problems on the side of the teacher or due to lesser classes, poor quality of teaching and learning or depending on parents completely or mostly to ensure learning is happening.
Schools and colleges must develop systems for the fee amount to be adjusted in such a way that the internet issues are less, the dependency on too many books in younger grades is less, batches are smaller so that children get more attention and the teacher thus can cover more topics in less time while ensuring that the quality is not compromised, concepts are understood and they receive feedback on the go.
Moreover, the situation isn't normal yet, the likelihood of schools opening up or even unlikely the parents agreeing to send children to schools and colleges, the highly impossible scenarios of students maintaining social distancing knowing they look forward to school and college to socialise and create memories, keeping in mind after the lock down at home, their excitement to be amidst others and get normal, it seems unlikely the situation can be assumed to get normal.
Schools and colleges are at the mercy of parents regarding their willingness to send their children to school, the payment of fees and God forbid the spread of the virus when students start gathering even in small groups could result in bad reputation for the school and affect their businesses in the long run. The pandemic has exposed in so many cases, the poor quality of education imparted and therefore schools and colleges must act wisely about their systems and practise the philosophy of "under promise and over deliver" instead of "over promise and under deliver."
Schools and colleges must act keeping the present in mind rather than treating online education as a temporary short term system because the experiences of students in online education could affect their businesses, it could result in parents changing their schools or colleges, from the front or back door. It seems like whenever the situation starts becoming normal enough for schools to start in physical mode, blended learning could be here to stay for some time. Investing in teachers, their equipment, laptops and internet connection as well as professional training not in subject or content but methodology, behavioural science, social and cognitive development while using technology could play a great role in ensuring 2021 and the years ahead are remembered by students and parents, teachers and school and college management as the months and years of resilience and impact, revealing the strengths of all the stakeholders rather than highlighting their weaknesses.
(Madiha Ahmed is a Digital Literacy Consultant and Trainer at Dell Aarambh, conducting webinars for teachers and parents across India on effective online education)