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Go Back to the List May 10, 2021
Challenges in Indian education system due to Covid-19 pandemic

Let us begin with a fact: The plan to return students to physical classrooms has suffered a major setback in the last few weeks, with the country witnessing a second wave of Covid-19 cases that is worse than the peak in 2020. Another set of lockdowns seems imminent, with no telling when the situation will be back under control.

That said, there is a silver lining to this cloud. Eventually, the government and educational institutions do want to facilitate a return to offline pedagogy. The current delay gives them more time to formulate a better roadmap for ensuring a safer transition back to school-based learning.

Some may question whether a return is necessary. After all, e-learning has been on the rise during the pandemic and is being heralded as the future of education.

However, while online pedagogy does a great job of supplementing offline education, it does not serve as the latter’s replacement. This holds especially true in a developing economy such as India for several reasons.

Why India cannot do without offline learning in the long run

To begin with, the digital medium can’t replicate the interpersonal interactions that schools facilitate by bringing together young children from different backgrounds and cultures. In essence, they act as a melting pot of ideas and perspectives that serves to broaden the learners’ perspective.

Interacting with their peers between classes also help students develop their social skills essential to their holistic growth and development.

Another aspect is that of equitable access. India is infamous for its wealth gap; a 2020 Oxfam report highlighted how the country’s richest 10% own almost three-fourths (74%) of its wealth.

This means that, of the 320 million learners calling India home, a significant percentage does not have the same access to digital facilities as their more privileged peers do.

This disparity is further complicated by the digital divide between urban and rural India, leading to issues with consistency and quality of learning.

Even developed countries such as the US have faced challenges with ensuring quality education to learners during the pandemic; McKinsey estimated that school closures until January 2021 would lead to an estimated 6-8 months of learning losses in the US, with low-income, black, and Hispanic students disproportionately affected by it.

India might fare even worse if offline learning isn’t resumed soon, given the inequities, bottlenecks, and challenges that already plague its education ecosystem.

Challenges in and prospective solutions for a return to physical classrooms

However, going back to school will not be plain sailing. Stakeholders from government, educational institutions, and regulatory bodies will need to ensure that the return to physical learning does not jeopardise the health and safety of the students.

A phase-wise repopulation of the classrooms, with staggered and rotational rosters, could be a prospective solution; only a given number of students, in keeping with social distancing norms, would be present in the classroom on any given day, with the remaining students attending via live chatrooms.

This would help with a safer transition to an offline-led learning module without increasing the number of daily classes assigned to educators.

Central, state, and district-level governments could also partner with private players in the non-profit space to improve the access to digital learning solutions for less-privileged students to make this a reality.

Ultimately, we do not know when India will finally emerge from the pandemic’s hold to resume offline learning.

However, stakeholders must prioritise the creation of a blueprint for the students’ eventual return to school. For a majority of young schoolchildren across the country, it is not a luxury but a non-negotiable necessity.

- Article by Vibhuti Taneja, Founder, EDcel Consulting

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Written by Vibhuti Taneja, Founder, EDcel Consulting,
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