By Dr Rajbans Singh Gill, Professor & Director,
Centre for Public Policy & Governance,
Punjabi University, Patiala, Punjab
Technology is rapidly evolving, Higher education has also taken the support of ICT and now offers convenient ways to help increase the knowledge, education and literacy status of people. E-learning platform provides anywhere, anytime easy access for upgradation of knowledge and skills. It provides a platform wherein the individual gets a customized package related to key thematic areas, through a self-guided process. One of the key component of ICT is e-Learning. e-Learning is learning through utilizing electronic technologies to access educational curriculum outside of a traditional classroom. E-learning programmes are clutching the moment and trying to plug the academic void created by the closure of educational establishments due to coronavirus pandemic. E-learning signifies the method of sharing and communicating knowledge via multimedia platforms.
On 11th February 2020, the WHO announced a name for the new coronavirus disease as COVID-19. As lockdowns continue throughout the world, many individuals are heading online for help – such as the 1.3 million people signed up for “The Science of Well Being”, a free course from Yale University. Since the end of 2019, its enrollment numbers have risen 295%, and in March 2020 more than half a million new learners signed up within a matter of weeks. The online enrolment boom is being experienced elsewhere, too.
A course that also looks at the science of happiness, run by the University of California, Berkeley, has crossed its own registration record by drawing half a million learners globally. NASSCOM is offering courses such as Artificial Intelligence Foundation Course, AI for everyone, and other similar subjects for free on its portal SkillUp Online, which was launched with support from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY). The AI Foundation Course that would have normally cost Rs 6800 can be taken for free online until 15 May 2020. Information Technology behemoth Tata Consultancy Service is offering a 15-day digital certification programme called Career Edge – Knockdown the Lockdown for free through TCS iON. The course aims at fine-tuning the communication, presentation and behavioural skills of students to create an impact in interviews and the workplace.
As higher education institutions, have been closed due to COVID-19, the majority of students are learning remotely. Motivating students during remote learning is central to their success. Motivation means ensuring they are interested, involved and confident in their learning. Parents and teachers have an important role to play by providing students with encouragement and feedback. The Coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing lockdown has forced Universities and colleges across India to temporarily shut and this virus had created a big gap in the education system despite the central and state government doing their best to provide support for e-learning and online education.
The lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19 is having and will have a huge impact on other education sector provisions and outcomes. More than fifty percent of Indian Districts are reeling under this disease. The educational fraternity, have a great responsibility of not only making the people aware of preventive and precautionary measures to safeguard themselves and check the further spread of this virus but have to reconnect with students who comprises a special place in strata of society. In the times of curfew, the students belonging to Universities, colleges and other higher learning institutes have the opportunity to continue with their studies through different platforms available online.
Role of Government
The government of India has also initiated and directed to use numerous online platforms effectively by engaging students with online learning through Information and Communication technology techniques. The Government of India through its Human Resource Development Ministry and diverse departments working under it are bringing out numerous initiatives. The University Grants Commission and its Inter University Centres (IUC)- Informational and Library Network(INFLIBNET) and Consortium for educational Communication (CEC) are part of this network. These platforms can be accessed by teacher, students and researchers.
The Government is not leaving any stone unturned for arranging/ scheduling study material via various platforms. Most of the Information and Communication Technology tools are SWAYAM, MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses), E-Pathsala, SWAMPRABHA, e-SHODH SINDHU etc.
Apart from these government sponsored resources, there are other e-learning platforms which are interactive and can be accessed from home. In these Platforms, the teaching faculty has to first add their students to the list and then upload their lectures, course material, audio instructions etc. Most of the students who are on the rolls of higher education institutions have smart phones and other devices irrespective of economic health in urban areas, so e-learning methods can hold ground till the virus is contained.
Easyclass Learning Management System is a platform that allows educators to create online classes whereby they can store the course materials online; manage assignments, quizzes and exams; monitor due dates; grade results and provide students with feedback all in one place.
Other resource is Zoom Classroom which helps teachers to Video Conferencing, collaborations, virtual classrooms and Increase student participation and learning retention with virtual and hybrid classrooms and micro-learning. Now Government of India’s, Ministry of Home Affairs issued an advisory on the use of the video conferencing app. It has said the use of the platform is “not safe.” The caution has been issued for Zoom users in India, whose numbers have swollen considerably over the past few days. Zoom has emerged as a one-stop solution for video meetings among users during the covid-19-induced lockdown globally. The looming concern on Zoom is related to the security loopholes that have been unearthed in multitudes, also emphasised by the regulators in countries such as the US and Taiwan.
Faculty members and students may do video/audio conferencing through Skype, WhatsApp, Google Hangouts and other similar e-resources for discussion related to their course. There are numerous screen recording videos like Screen Hunter, Camtasia screen recorder, windows screen recorder, etc. Using these tools, teacher can make tutorial videos.
Moodle, is another option, which is an Online platform with number of features for conducting online examinations. It can create and store a question bank on the Moodle platform. The test time slot and time span can be set for the particular test with which we can test students. Punjabi University is the pioneer in making full use of online platforms and connecting every student by every means available to deliver course contents.
While the present conversion to online courses is prompt and provisional, it may have long-term consequences on how education and learning are delivered. The major challenge is the students have gone back home and rural area residing students comprises the major chunk. Delivering the educational content with special reference to their syllabus would be a major challenge. Mostly students in the rural areas suffer from network problems and devoid of luxury of having iPad or smart phones. India is a nation of diverse languages, cultures, customs and ideas.
Designing a platform catering to myriad regional languages is a challenging assignment. Nevertheless, numerous e-learning platforms now support extensively spoken languages to grant benefit to the majority of the populace. Many government websites offer content in both English and Hindi while supporting local languages too.
There are noises about understanding the discriminated socio-economic backdrops of students and how educational institutions should be receptive, adequately, to all students if they are to deliver education in a way that is reasonable and unbiased. The discussion at all institutions has taken an elitist bias with problematic assumptions. It seems all students can suddenly have laptops or cell phones that are smart enough for capabilities of e-learning programing. This is not true. Even if this were to happen, some students return to homes where electricity (important to charge devices) is used for lighting or where there is no electricity. We do know the challenges we have with connectivity.
Currently, major challenge is to lessen as much as possible the negative impact this pandemic will have on learning and education and construct on this data to get back on a track of speedier development in learning. As education systems cope with this disaster, they must also be thinking of how they can recover stronger, with a transformed sense of responsibility of all actors. Brace for its impact!