When the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic initially started spreading rapidly and began affecting human beings drastically in India, the central government had to impose a nationwide lockdown to bring it under control. After the country went into a shutdown mode on March 25, 2020, learning institutions were closed and the education system in India underwent such a massive change with the commencement of online education that its good and bad effects became difficult to be analysed. Although the rise of online education seems comforting and can offer flexibility in learning approaches, its reach, usage and way of providing it has its own set of challenges for many people.
One of the most noteworthy changes that the coronavirus pandemic has brought is that the mobile phones which were considered as sources of nuisance for students once upon a time by most people from the teaching community have today literally become a learning institution in itself. In the pre-corona days, a student who was caught using a mobile phone silently during class hours by a teacher was punished in some way. However, ironically, the very thing due to which the number of punishments faced by students had increased has now become the saviour without which no classes or learning can occur.
The switching from learning in classrooms to online education has mostly affected the poor students and those hailing from rural areas. The students whose parents cannot afford to buy a mobile phone for them are the ones that had to suffer the most due to the education changes in the coronavirus pandemic. Moreover, the students hailing from places where there is no electricity or the areas which witness frequent load shedding also had to face difficulties in taking online education as they cannot use their electronic devices smoothly and regularly. The areas where technical infrastructure is not available or the internet connectivity is weak have also been challenging places for students to learn online.
Apart from students, the teaching community also had to face some difficulties while imparting online education. As most of the teachers in India provides education by learning some information about a lesson they are going to teach in a class beforehand and lecturing it the next day in front of an entire class of students by resorting only to a chalk/ marker, a duster and a board as tools, the need for giving online education brought some new challenges in their jobs. They had to work more hard and prepare slides or documents in such a way that students can comprehend their teachings while pursuing it. However, some teachers managed to set up a board in their room and put up their digital devices in a corner by using some creative means of support and conduct online classes as in a normal classroom with the use of chalks / markers to explain lessons. Some teachers had to learn about the efficient way of using online learning platforms to teach students. Meanwhile, poor availability of internet connectivity and electricity, non-availability of technical infrastructure are another major issues that hampered the imparting of online education by the teaching community. Another biggest challenge that the teacher seems to be missing during conducting online classes was the actual level of interaction of the students with the lessons unlike in a classroom where each of their activities could be monitored. As it was hard to monitor students’ moods or track their activities during online classes, teachers could not make out their level of involvement with learning.
Knowledge of using technical devices was also another necessity that affected the online education scenario in India. To ensure the smooth flow of online education on both sides, both the student and the teacher had to know or learn the basic usage of online learning tools. Although digital mediums like Zoom, Google Meet were used frequently for online education, some teachers also tend to use only WhatsApp as a teaching medium where he / she sent some learning materials for the students.
Laboratory classes are the ones which were hampered the most with the closing down of schools, colleges and universities due to the coronavirus pandemic. Although some teachers managed to make videos of experiments and sent them to students online or conduct live-in experiments in front of them using Zoom, the real objective of use of the laboratory classes seem to be missing as students did not get to conduct the experiments and learn it on their own.
Parents were also not left out of the difficulties posed by the changes in the Indian education system due to the coronavirus pandemic. Many of them had to manage to procure electronic devices somehow for their children so that they can smoothly attend online classes. As most of the students studying in kindergarten or primary classes would know less about using digital devices to learn online, their parents manage to take time out from their hectic schedules to attend classes with them so that they can learn properly.
However, the best thing about the commencement of online learning is better time management for the students, teachers and parents. Apart from getting to spent more time with family, many students are getting to engage more with their hobbies and learn about some essential skills like cooking, gardening etc. Meanwhile, students have got a scope to widen their knowledge on various topics from different sources using Internet. They are also showing a keen interest in learning more from various sources online than remaining bound to textbook learning. Some students pursuing higher education or people belonging to various professions having also signed up for distance learning programmes or online certificate courses to add feathers to their caps or improve their career prospects.
To minimize the difficulties faced by the poor students due to the coronavirus pandemic, many NGOs had conducted or are organizing donation drives to purchase equipment for their education. With the money collected through charities, NGOs are purchasing and distributing mobile phones to poor students so that they can get an equal access to the right of education. Apart from the government incentives designed to fulfil the access of online education easily, many NGOs , individuals and corporations are doing all they can to help educate poor students by collaborating with various companies to develop the requisite technical setup, provide electronic devices, design learning materials, teach them easily in vernacular languages virtually.