COVID-19 pandemic has put the spotlight on the ever-increasing infrastructural imbalances in school education in terms of rural-urban, rich and poor and gender divide. During the COVID-19 pandemic, girls were badly hit by this situation. They were first to be taken off the education system and put to domestic chores. According to a UNESCO COVID Monitoring website, approximately 1.72 billion learners have been affected due to closure of educational institutions.
In a matter of weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic changed how students learn around the world. The centuries-old, chalk-talk teaching model was disrupted, leaving the students, practitioners and policy makers in a fix. As schools shut down, and billions of students sat at home, the world saw a paradigm shift in the delivery of education which was fast adopting a technology-driven approach.
However, in a country like India which suffers huge disparities in resources, including a digital divide between the poor and the rich. Despite efforts made by the Government and other stakeholders to integrate digital learning with our traditional mode of learning, much stride was not made and progress has been quite slow. More than 80 per cent of student population in India could not be served through distant digital mode. COVID-19 made it imperative to look at ways and means to provide education to poor children who would regress into further backwardness if left un-attended owing to inadequate resources.
Thus, the daunting challenge of providing education to poor children during hard times of COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown shook the practitioners. AROH Foundation is one of the progressive NGOs working in the field of education to improve the quality of education at all levels, in both rural and urban areas. AROH has designed and pioneered some innovative models to teach the educationally backward rural children and urban slum children. This includes a holistic approach to education by improving school infrastructure, teachers training, students learning outcomes and parental engagement with education.
From installing SMART classes in remote villages, to installing e-libraries, providing computer literacy skills to youngsters or ensuring digital literacy within students and villagers or making remedial education pedagogy digital friendly through various programmes taken up by the Foundation.
This forward-thinking approach and farsightedness of AROH to provide digital modes of learning in its various programmes has helped us cope better as nation was reeling through difficult times when schools were shut down. RISE (Remedial Innovation in School Education) is on such initiative which caters to more than 1000 destitute slum children with free remedial education, physical and nutritional wellness support along with facilitating holistic growth for children. The centres were shut down in COVID, but both teachers and students adopted digital learning in almost no time. RISE never stopped even though the education became a privilege of riches during the lockdown and was the last sector to be unlocked.
Catering to mostly migrants’ population, RISE could manage to prevent a large percentage of children from dropping off, while connecting with them over internet, Whatsapp, audio or video sessions. With a special emphasis over the girl child, counsellors from AROH made sure, it reached out to maximum parents and community to aware them towards girl child education.
RISE quickly upgraded its curriculum from being a ‘Project-Based Learning’ (PBL) to a ‘Blended Learning’ (BL) which could cater to both face-to-face and digital learning methodology. Children found the new curriculum more interesting and easy to grasp. The audio-video teaching learning modules also creates a quick and longer impact on children. It’s much more fun. Adding icing to the cake, the teachers are now available just at a click of a button over the mobile, which was limited to just 3 hours previously.
After a year of remaining under lockdown, in February 2021, the RISE centres opened with a lot of caution and uncertainty. But sudden surge of cases in April forced another lock down, dashing the hopes of teachers and children alike. However, once again the centres swiftly switched to the online mode. RISE could retain maximum of its students through online methodology and that too with much ease. It was a result of a futuristic approach and planning towards a digital paradigm shift that was happening with education system within India.
While sudden COVID-19 situation has put us out of gear, this sudden shoving of education system into digital mode has also proven to be a blessing in disguise for the much-needed push towards the digitization of Education pedagogy in India. The lockdown has accelerated adoption of digital technology. Schools, educational institutes, analytics, computer, data management methods and online education solutions have been forced to work in tandem and improve in quality and delivery time to handle such situations.
This is an ideal time to experiment and deploy new tools to make education delivery meaningful to students who can’t go to campuses. It’s a chance to be more efficient and productive while developing new and improved professional skills and knowledge through online learning and assessment. It is also a fact that use of technology in education is resulting in different concepts in the system, for instance the move from teacher-centric education to student-centric education.
In the current scenario, RISE centres doubled up as rejuvenation centres for those already deprived children during the pandemic. RISE was our priority, we could not close it completely. Good part was, we were prepared. A holistic approach to education – that addressed students’ learning, social and emotional needs was crucial, especially in times of crisis. School closures meant that students from diverse backgrounds who were more at risk of increased vulnerability were less likely to receive the support and extra services they needed, and the gap between students who experience additional barriers and who do not, could widen. Closures could also have considerable effects on students’ sense of belonging to schools and their feelings of self-worth – these were key factors for inclusion in revival and retention of RISE.
During the pandemic, AROH also ran fundraisers to support children with pre used digital gadgets to continue their education, supported the parents, who lost their jobs during lockdown in alternative livelihood options, catered to cases to surging domestic violence during lockdown and continuous counselling and support sessions were done.
A key aspect of coping with Covid-19 is to ensure that the learning remains a continuous process virtually. Connecting students and teachers through digital platforms and necessary software through the use of laptop or phones is the latest transition in education trying to eradicate the physical need of teachers or classrooms. This is an ideal time to accept technology and its latest offerings in order to make education delivery to students more efficient and make it more productive through online learning and assessments. All these steps will help strengthen the country’s digital learning infrastructure in the long run. Covid-19 has only accelerated adoption of technologies to deliver education.”
Although we are witnessing a kind of technological revolution in the education system, there is also a crisis caused by the sudden digitization. According to the Key Indicators of Household Social Consumption on Education in India report, based on the 2017-18 National Sample Survey, less than 15% of rural Indian households have Internet (as opposed to 42% urban Indian households). A mere 13 per cent of people surveyed (aged above five) in rural areas — just 8.5 per cent of females — could use the Internet.
The poorest households cannot afford a smartphone or a computer. Though this shall be beneficial in the longer run as this shall lower down the infrastructural and physical barriers but this was supposed to go slow especially when a large chunk of socio- economically weaker children are enrolled in government schools in cities and villages, who are already in financial crisis due to lockdown and cannot afford requisites of digital learning like smart phones or laptops.
Schools and educational institutions are struggling to have an access to the required infrastructure like internet connectivity, telecom infrastructure, affordability of online system, availability of laptop/desktop, software, educational tools, online assessment tools, etc. Teachers are not well-equipped with the gadgets, so the first thing required shall be the capacity building of the teachers. Although we have installed the infra to support digital mode of education, enhanced the capacities of educators, upgraded the schools and teaching learning methodology, but we still are facing a huge obstacles of power supply, internet supply and government needs to play its role here.
To support the education sector, government should come forward with a policy perspective on post-Covid response to education. This should entail a plan to address the specific academic needs and psycho-social needs of children once they return to school as well as strategies to mitigate COVID-induced issues related to the management of schools, addressing emerging learning gaps among children, and training of teachers to use principles of blended learning flipped classroom.