A recent circular by the University Grants Commission (UGC) proposes that all higher educational institutions (HEI) teach 40% of any course online and the rest 60% offline.
The concept note circulated by the UGC argues that this “blended mode of teaching” and learning paves the way for increased student engagement in learning, enhanced student-teacher interactions, improved student learning outcomes and more flexible teaching and learning environments, among other things.
Advantages of Blended Learning:
- The note also enlists key benefits such as increased opportunity for institutional collaborations at a distance and enhanced self-learning accruing from blended learning (BL).
- Another claim is that Blended Learning benefits the teachers as well. It shifts the role of the teacher from being a “knowledge provider to a coach and mentor”.
- The note says this will enable teachers to have a greater influence and effect on students’ learning.
- Further, as against traditional classroom instruction which is “teacher-directed, top-down, and one-size-fits-all”, BL is “student-driven, bottom-up, and customized”.
- The note adds that BL introduces flexibility in assessment and evaluation patterns as well.
- Educators wish to embrace the forward-looking proposal but the ground reality is different.
Challenges for Blended Learning:
- The latest All India Survey on Higher Education (2019-20) report shows that 60.56% of the 42,343 colleges in India are located in rural areas and 78.6% are privately managed.
- Can these colleges successfully implement BL? And what would be the cost of such education?
- Only big corporates are better placed to invest in technology and provide such learning.
- Second, according to datareportal statistics, Internet penetration in India is only 45% as of January 2021.
- This policy will only exacerbate the existing geographical and digital divide resulting in the exclusion of a large number of rural students.
- Third, BL leaves little room for all-round formation of the student that includes the development of their intelligent quotient, emotional quotient, social quotient, physical quotient and spiritual quotient.
- What is the guarantee that BL will enhance interactions between students and teachers that lead to personality development, character building and career formation?
- The listening part and subsequent interactions with the teacher may get minimised.
- Also, the concept note assumes that all students who enter the arena of higher education have similar learning styles and have a certain amount of digital literacy to cope with the suggested learning strategies of BL. This is far from true.
- Education in India is driven by a teacher-centred approach. Expecting these students to switch over quickly to collaborative and technology-enabled learning will be stressful for them and may accentuate the existing dropout rate in higher education.
The role of Universities:
- Higher education institutions are not only about students. They are also meant to be a space for teachers. Every society needs teachers.
- They are not merely knowledge providers. They do have a responsibility to introduce students to all sources of knowledge.
- But they are also knowledge creators. What happens on the campuses is dialogue. And by interacting with generations of students and colleagues, one learns to think. Thinking does not happen in isolation.
- We need different kinds of teachers in each discipline on our campuses. They bring with them diverse ways of looking at the world.
- The student must have an opportunity to be in the company of differences and disagreements. It is this that would help her democratise herself.
- Another important role of the universities, especially in the context of India, is to help democratise society.
- The campuses give the youth relative freedom from the shackles of communities they come from.
- One can safely say that a feminist formation like Pinjra Tod cannot be imagined without the physical campuses.
Given these challenges, it is worth considering a few recommendations.
- The government should ensure equity in access to technology and bandwidth for all HEIs across the country free of cost.
- Massive digital training programmes must be arranged for teachers. Even the teacher-student ratio needs to be readjusted to implement BL effectively.
- This may require the appointment of a greater number of teachers. The design of the curriculum should be decentralised and based on a bottom-up approach.
- More power in such education-related policymaking should be vested with the State governments.
- Switching over from a teacher-centric mode of learning at schools to the BL mode at the tertiary level will be difficult for learners.
Hence, the government must think of overhauling the curriculum at the school level as well.
The new move should not come as a surprise as this government has, right from the beginning, seen physical campuses as a “nuisance”.
It has unleashed its student wing to discipline students and teachers, used punitive measures and nearly finished them off as deliberative spaces. This is yet another move to tighten control over classrooms.
Finally, periodical discussions, feedback mechanisms and support services at all levels would revitalise the implementation of the learning programme of the National Education Policy 2020, BL, and lead to the actualisation of the three cardinal principles of education policy: access, equity and quality.