The education system suffered immensely during the global pandemic. It is important that we understand these challenges in order to solve them to build back what we have lost. Photo: PTI
Before 2020, we had only heard of deadly epidemics, pandemics, and plagues in books: the Spanish Flu, the Great Plague of London, the Bubonic Plague, H1N1 Swine Flu, and SARS, among others. Two years into the pandemic, and nobody knows what lies ahead for all of us. The pandemic has completely changed the fabric of society and has further amplified problems that had already existed in the pre-pandemic world, including but not limited to issues related to education, health, disability, gender, caste, and class, and the inequalities that had already existed before have widened.
The pandemic had and continues to have a great impact on the education sector, mostly in a negative way. In a 2021 study conducted by the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), it was found that almost 250 million children in India were affected by the education crisis that occurred as a result of the pandemic. The transition from offline to online education highlighted some of the major issues surrounding accessibility in society. It is no surprise that the pandemic disproportionately affected less-privileged students and that a lack of access to education was observed along the lines of gender, caste, and class.
PROBLEMS FACED BY THE STAKEHOLDERS BY SHIFT TO ONLINE EDUCATION:
• While it was comparatively easier for private schools to make this transition, public schools struggled to make the transition happen.
• Children from marginalized and less-privileged backgrounds ended up dropping out of schools as families had to choose between education and hunger. Many children were forced to work to provide income to support their families.
• The digital divide did not allow many underprivileged children to continue their education. The lack of access to mobile phones, electricity, and the internet, led to students facing extra problems. If there was access to a mobile phone, the education of male children was the priority. A survey by a group of economists such as Jean Dreze and Reetika Khera found that only 77% of families in urban areas and 51% in rural areas have access to smartphones, and within that, only 31% of children in cities and 15% in villages are able to make use of smartphones for education-related purposes. • For fairly privileged students who had access to the internet and mobile phones, there has been an increase in screen time, which was a cause of worry for their parents. The teachers were also unable to build a rapport with the students in the online setting. A survey conducted last year by the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights’ first journal found that around 43% of 220 teachers were deeply unhappy with the online mode of education.
It is important to acknowledge that the pandemic has inadvertently caused the digital realm to intermix with the educational realm in an inseparable manner. In this pseudo post-pandemic world where the physical mode of education has begun once again with the reopening of schools and colleges, it seems difficult and irrelevant to go back to the traditional ways of teaching and learning. We need to adopt a blended form of teaching and learning process in the future. Blended Learning or Hybrid Learning is a promising approach towards learning that makes use of both the online tools for learning as well as the traditional teaching methods. In 2006, Charles R. Graham provided a concrete definition of the term and defined blended learning systems as systems that “combine face-to-face instruction with computer-mediated instruction.” The several models of blended learning, such as the rotation model, flipped classrooms, and the flex model, could be incredibly useful in the coming years.
Covid-19 led to schools being shut for a long period of time and deeply affected the lives and education of many children.
It seems impossible that learning will ever go back to the traditional way it existed in the pre-pandemic world. If implemented properly, the adoption of blended forms of learning as the new normal has the potential to make education more accessible and inclusive. For the blended form of learning to produce optimum results, the starting point needs to be the availability of the internet and digital devices in the rural areas of the country as well as for the underprivileged people in the urban areas. This form of learning has the ability to truly democratize education. There is a long way to go to recover from the loss of learning caused by the pandemic. It is important that the education sector be recognized as one of the top priorities, not just for the sake of students and teachers, but for the sake of the country’s future.
— Khushi Gupta