As the countries remain under lockdown, the world has gone through unprecedented changes. The economy has been shaken, putting every sector at risk. The education sector also is facing a storm of challenges. The complete education landscape seems to have dramatically changed in the past few months due to COVID-19 pandemic.
The crisis forced us to find solutions to the challenge of continuing the teaching and the learning process. This resulted in the quick-fix solutions in form of zoom classes, WhatsApp-based learning etc, with internet being exhaustively used since it serves to be the only possible medium of reaching learners during the COVID-19 triggered lockdown. The untested processes were made by the untrained teams within a time frame which did not even allow us to analyse and understand the barriers to disseminating education to all. The steps taken did provide a first aid solution but remain insufficient to treat the completely disrupted structure of education in the wake of COVID-19.
There has been unequal provision of education due to the vast digital divide in India and the developing world. The poor have not been able to become the part of continuous process of education for their kids and are losing chance to make use of the tool that has the potential to break the cycle of their intergenerational poverty.
The economic downslide is usually analysed from figures that represent various numbers to assess the economic health of a country. But to gauge the magnitude of impact of this pandemic we need to look at the family of unit a rural or urban poor which remains worst affected. The uncertainty, job losses, migration from place of work, force the decision that might result in increased child labour, early marriages, gender discrimination etc. This has the potential of undoing all the social efforts done towards uplifting the standard of living in the past few decades.
The pandemic does not however put less threat to those who can afford digital tools to help these fast track solutions reach them. The health is at risk as the screen time, which till now remained as entertainment time, extends to most of the day. Due to lack of physical activity and social interactions, purely digital learning could be dull and poses new challenges as it creates a new set of passive learners.
It is undeniable fact that Education is the single most powerful tool that has the potential to improve the standard of living of every individual in any strata of the society. But the challenges in this sector due to COVID-19 are quite different than those faced during the other disasters like tsunami or cyclone. We can fix cyclone impact, fix tsunami impact, etc. But in the case of COVID-19, we do not know how long this will go on, and we must be prepared to coexist with this for many years. As such, Education today is treading towards a new normal. In the absence of physical classrooms and proper digital infrastructure, both teachers and students are facing unprecedented challenges. It is evident from the current scenario that there is massive shift from the ever-used chalk – talk method and socio– behavioural learning in the school education system. The new system design will have to cater to psychological, social, and intellectual need of people. It may not just be enough to deliver engaging online-learning experiences to the children.
There has been a disruption of conventional social structure and learning system, and the rubrics of the new system design will have to consider newer elements. Considering the psychological impact of this pandemic, the policy makers need to deeply study the impact on the psychology of both children and the parents. As the part of content, the teaching needs to have the moral boosting, hopeful and value-based inclusions in subtle and inclusive manner. The redesigning of curriculum, methods, activity, peer interaction, human touch of teacher, assessment system, all will become vital for consideration.
As the current situation will have lasting impact on the economic condition of people, the change needs to have objective not to overburden the parent so that the education of children does not become optional or burden. The transition to new system must be contextually appropriate and frictionless for the easy adoption. Inclusion of vocational, skill-based learning in the academic structure of education is one considerable step that can provide the stability to those whose daily life remains in doldrums with uncertainty and scarcity feeding it at core.
In the post-COVID world, where do we begin, what do we do and how do we do it, and most importantly what are the unexplored factors that need to be researched and understood before creating the blue print of the new models, new policies and frameworks. It is important to understand the underlying systemic weakness that this pandemic has exposed. Stakeholders should not just be satisfied with finding quick-fix solutions to the current situation, but need to have far sighted vision so that we can create agile, resilient and sustainable long term solutions that can adapt to any dire situation that the world might face in future.
The starting point should be the research and in-depth analysis of the micro and macro factors that have been highlighted by this pandemic. This will help us uncover the interconnectedness between different seemingly unrelated factors and how they can become barriers to education.
Trust will play important role in post-COVID world. Now, more than ever, it is incredibly important to win the trust of the marginalized families who have not just lost trust in the system, but also all hope for their future. Special attention needs to be given to those who have migrated from their workplace back to their homes. They must be integrated back into their native environments with the objective to have sustainable livelihoods. Extensive survey and analysis need to be done to understand the rural demographics, outreach and adoption of government policies, infrastructure challenges, employment possibilities, women empowerment, health, and education systems. The insights will give us ideas about designing new approaches, and gaining parental trust, support, and engagement. Few approaches have been highlighted below:
- Awareness programs that highlight long-term positive aspects of parent involvement in education
- Employment, health, and financial well-being workshops for parents
- Enhancing the reach of the government schemes
- Provision of income opportunities to those in the family who have traditionally not contributed to the family income
The empty or underused school campuses could be reused for skill development, adult education, vocational studies, setting up small enterprise units for furthering the income of the family unit. India has a rich cultural heritage and the promotion of traditional discoveries, folk stories, rural art & crafts, traditional cuisines, home based enterprises, spiritual knowledge, home-based remedies etc should be done to unlock the unknown and unused talents that remain silent in the four walls. This will not only nourish the foundations of the country but provide dignity and income to many households, which in turn would result in continued education for kids in these households.
The other vital recommendation is on the preparedness of the teachers for the post-COVID world. Not only are many of the teachers digitally inept, a large number of teachers have never used an online environment to teach. Teaching a course online course ideally requires preparation, such as designing a lesson plan and preparing teaching materials such as audio and video contents. A teacher’s role is undergoing a revolutionising shift and that necessitates a reorientation of the support they require from the public education system. The dissemination of skill development, technical and mindfulness training and ensuring their financial and health security will serve as great encouragement to the teachers to shape the future of children in post-COVID world.
To weave the new fabric of education structure to ensure the provisioning of quality education that accelerates the efficiency of learning under the new constraints, we will need to redesign of the curriculum. The delivery and grouping of the content are some of the finer considerations that will help in covering up the losses incurred and preparing the children towards becoming stronger self-learners. The need will be to modulate the methods and have new inclusions in the same. The new normal in education will be a blend of digital and physical teaching.
Since the worst affected in today’s scenarios remain the migrants, it becomes imperative to design a system of learning that provides portability and flexibility. It would be imperative to provide the record of the developmental growth of the children that serves to the reference point form where child can continue his/her growth journey. Although this seems to be a tough task, data research and analysis can provide a solution to this. The demographic record of the urban and rural migrations, and the inclusions of life events during these transitions can provide data-driven insights that can help in the redesign of the learning system in which the children don’t feel disrupted from the continued learning processes.
Although COVID19 brought a wave of the challenges and disruptions, it did bring few positive aspects to the surface. One of such aspects that was viewed by the whole world was the manifestation of interconnectedness amongst the human beings. This was because of the innate empathy that exists within everyone. The world was praying for each other and taking care of each other. These are the powerful manifestations of human values of thought, will, care and kindness.
If we the intellects, entrepreneurs, researchers, social workers, educators, parents, corporates, policy makers, commoners and every single professional contributes towards solving the wicked challenges our world faces today, we can create avenues for new growth. COVID-19 marks a rare inflection point, where the entire education system is being forced to recalibrate its actions and delivery channels. This situation also provides each of us with an opportunity to pause and ask an important question — how can we collectively reimagine our public education systems to be more agile, flexible, and resistant to such global crises?
Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel once said – “By common endeavour we can raise the country to a new greatness, while a lack of unity will expose us to fresh calamities.” It is time to work together in complete harmony for future generations to have a fulfilled life.
We cannot thrive unless everyone thrives!