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The COVID-19 pandemic has caused chaos in education worldwide. Some 1.6 billion school and college students had their studies interrupted at the peak of the pandemic, as per the United Nations. As we rebound from the pandemic, the world needs to take stock of the inequalities exacerbated by Covid-pandemic and accelerate efforts to bridge the learning gap.

Impacts on education:

  • School and university closures will not only have a short-term impact on the continuity of learning for more than 300 million young learners in India but also engender far-reaching economic and societal consequences.
  • The pandemic has significantly disrupted the higher education sector as well, which is a critical determinant of a country’s economic future.
  • Sluggish cross-border movement of students: Universities in many countries such as Australia, UK, New Zealand, and Canada are highly dependent on the movement of students from China and India.
  • A large number of Indian students—second only to China—enroll in universities abroad, especially in countries worst affected by the pandemic, the US, UK, Australia and China.
  • Many such students have now been barred from leaving these countries. If the situation persists, in the long run, a decline in the demand for international higher education is expected.
  • Passive learning by studentsThe sudden shift to online learning without any planning — especially in countries like India where the backbone for online learning was not ready and the curriculum was not designed for such a format — has created the risk of most of our students becoming passive learners and they seem to be losing interest due to low levels of attention span.
  • Unprepared teachers for online education: Online learning is a special kind of methodology and not all teachers are good at it or at least not all of them were ready for this sudden transition from face to face learning to online learning. Thus, most of the teachers are just conducting lectures on video platforms such as Zoom which may not be real online learning in the absence of a dedicated online platform specifically designed for the purpose.
  • Drop in employment rate: The bigger concern, however, on everybody’s mind is the effect of the disease on the employment rate. Recent graduates in India are fearing withdrawal of job offers from corporates because of the current situation. The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy’s estimates on unemployment shot up from 8.4% in mid-March to 23% in early April and the urban unemployment rate to 30.9%.

However, there have been a few opportunities also that has risen during the times of pandemic:

  • Rise in Blended Learning:
    • Universities and colleges will shift to a model of blended learning where both face to face delivery along with an online model will become a norm.
    • This will require all teachers to become more technology savvy and go through some training to bring themselves to the level that would be required.
  • Learning management systems to be the new norm:
    • A great opportunity will open up for those companies that have been developing and strengthening learning management systems for use by universities and colleges.
    • This has the potential to grow at a very fast pace but will have to be priced appropriately for use by all institutions.
  • Improvement in learning material:
    • There is a great opportunity for universities and colleges to start improving the quality of the learning material that is used in the teaching and learning process.
    • Since blended learning will be the new format of learning there will be a push to find new ways to design and deliver quality content especially due to the fact that the use of learning management systems will bring about more openness and transparency in academics.
  • Rise in collaborative work:
    • The teaching community to a large extent has been very insulated and more so in a country like India.
    • There is a new opportunity where collaborative teaching and learning can take on new forms and can even be monetized.
    • Finally, it is expected that there will be a massive rise in teleconferencing opportunities which can also have a negative impact on the travel.
    • A large number of academic meetings, seminars and conferences will move online and there is a possibility that some new form of an online conferencing platform will emerge as a business model.

Way forward:

  • While the focus must now be ensuring the safety of students, teachers and staff, and putting in place protocols for school reopening, there has to be an extensive assessment of the learning loss and well-thought-out plans to bridge the learning gap, and schemes to retain students.
  • This entails tweaking the syllabus and changing pedagogy.
  • This forced break must also be used to align the sector to the National Education Policy (NEP), which was released last week, especially to its foundational learning goals.
  • Last but not least, governments will have to arrange for funds required for the sector.