In the last decade, liberalisation and the Internet revolution have been among the important global developments. Education has been one of the key spheres to benefit from this.
The Internet’s involvement in the growth of school and higher education cannot be underestimated. Though online education was in a nascent stage before COVID-19, the pandemic has seen it grow exponentially. If not for the digital sphere, the educational world would have come to a standstill.
Today, with the advent of video-sharing social media platforms, many education-related activities are streamed and news viewed digitally for the benefit of students and educators.
Government and private bodies alike have embarked on developing suitable dashboards, Learning Managing Systems (LMS) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, thus making availability and accessibility of data in a dynamic form.
Students, in particular, have benefited Internet-augmented education. Virtual practical classes are conducted wherever possible and young entrepreneurs are creating lucid and innovative virtual practical courses to supplement theoretical knowledge.
Research has gained a fillip, with online submission and publication of research papers, researcher-friendly apps, online conferences and webinars allowing experts from different fields to share their knowledge without being limited by geography.
E-learning has helped people learn anywhere, anytime. Those who wanted to upskill or reskill themselves have also benefited. Many people have been able to upgrade their qualifications and move up the corporate ladder thanks to completing online courses.
The flip side
However, there have also been some problem areas. Often, both teachers and students take online classes very casually. Punctuality and the formality have suffered. It is not uncommon for students to mark attendance and then disappear from class. Authenticating the veracity of assignments and project work has been a formidable task, as was dealing with malpractice during exams, despite remote proctoring being available. Hence many institutions are reverting to offline exams for the conduct of the final exams.
With the observance of Safer Internet Day tomorrow, we also need to understand the perils of Internet-mediated education.
Besides using the Internet for productive purposes, students also use it for entertainment purposes and to share things. However, this can lead to various problems, if they are not aware of safety measures. Scamsters lurk online to lure the unwary into trouble. Phishing, cyberbullying, fake news, exposure to inappropriate content, and scams are all issues that students must be made aware of, especially now when they are spending more time online.
While preparing for exams, students should be advised to turn off notifications or stay away from social media so that they can concentrate. Teachers and parents can set time limits on the use of the device to prevent addiction.
Another deficiency of e-learning is the lack of individual attention to learners’ issues. Lack of connectivity and access to devices among the economically weaker sections. and inadequate exposure to digital tools both among the students and teachers need to be addressed. Apart from teacher training, continuous feedback from students is vital for quality assurance.
With both teachers and students being familiar with the online mode, it is now possible to take advantage of the learnings from the past couple of years. Inclusion of lectures by global experts, conduct of conferences/webinars and viva voce, administrative and other meetings can now be moved online, unless physical presence is absolutely essential.
The government too is encouraging and promoting online, open and distance learning modes, which has been supported by the introduction of MOOCs, cloud-based learning, and flipped classrooms. Visual learning is now enabling short video lessons that will keep students engaged, as will virtual field trips and walkthroughs.
However, what is required is high-speed and constant Internet services, especially in rural areas. This will ensure that youth in those areas are not left behind in this process. Ensuring digital equity to all is vital for a nation’s progress and to provide education for all, at any time, at any place and at any pace.
The writer is Pro Vice-Chancellor, Hindustan Institute of Technology & Science (A Deemed-to-be University), Chennai