The New Normal Learning
The year gone by saw a microbe running riots on the entire human race, changing even the way we lived and worked. Like any other sector, education, too, went into a complete overhaul. The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to shut down campuses and move to the digital format of learning.
While on one hand, 52 per cent of 283 million students in India beyond the primary education are in zero-education domain, the rest is at varying levels of digitally delivered education. The discussion we often do in a public domain is mostly in English, through which we can touch only the luckier 48 per cent of the pie or even a smaller part of them.
Education now calls for higher and more proactive involvement of policymakers in governance, entrepreneurs in private sectors, administrators in both public and private institutions, faculty members or mentors and learners or students. A twelve-point blueprint under five categories can help chart a roadmap for education in 2021.
Policymakers In Governance
First, the government must give a clear list of things to be done by educational institutes before April to implement the new education policy. While the government put up a great vision in the 64-page policy document last year, it is yet to spell out the implementation roadmap for it. From vision to on-ground execution is a long, arduous journey.
Second, the government has to spell out the specific measures to be executed over the next 12 months, at which level of education, what will be the regional and linguistic variations, and how shall we account for the infrastructure needed to implement the policy, at least in state-run institutions.
Third, the digital divide is real and glaring and hence, doubling the education budget, as promised in the policy, from below-3 per cent to 6 per cent of the GDP, needs to be done on ground. The Union Budget 2021 mentioned of additional funds exclusively for giving digital access to institutions and students in the government education ecosystem. A larger section of this ecosystem is now without any tangible education for close to a year.
Entrepreneurs In Private Institutes
Fourth, since half of the universities, one-third of the colleges and roughly one-fifth of the schools in India are in private hands, and these numbers are growing, the first priority of educational entrepreneurs is to invest heavily in digital transformation of their campus, considering it as an essential, long-term investment, and not looking for an immediate return.
A digital overhaul will need retraining of the faculty in blended education, creating the necessary infrastructure in producing open online courses, videos and podcasts, infographics, blended learning classroom, proctored remote examination, virtual library, studio and laboratory. In the next two months, all of these tasks need to be completed in every campus.
Fifth, the shared capital concept needs to be harnessed, where the infrastructure of one institute can support that of another against a fee or even free if it is for the less privileged category of students in nearby schools and colleges. This can be a business proposition on one hand, and a corporate social responsibility on the other.
Administrators In Public & Private Institutes
Sixth, educational administrators – from the school to the university level and in both public and private institutes – must retrain their staff in the digital format without delay. They also need the infrastructure for this. Besides framing a roadmap for the implementation of NEP, there should be focus on preserving and nurturing autonomy in academic functioning at higher education institutes.
Seventh, they also need to move to an outcome-based education where learning objectives and outcomes alone should judge the success of the institute. The focus should not be just finishing a structured syllabus, taking final exams, and giving certificates or degrees. Outcome-based reworking of syllabi at the college and university level is the other urgency for the next two months.
Eighth, the administrators must draw up an elaborate standard operating process (SOPs) to open up campuses for the students and staff, maintaining safety parameters, calling lesser number of learners on campus and on lesser number of days, keeping practical and group work on campus and theory sessions largely digital, and many other relevant measures.
Mentors And Faculty Members
Ninth, the biggest need for the teachers is to evolve to a mentor mindset, completely relearn the process with technology, move to a flipped classroom method where they aggregate their own proprietary content along with available open-learning resources and help the learners in self-learning.
Tenth, the mentors must adapt to prepare new and creative ways of learning resources or content creation, then use interactive, efficient platforms for content delivery, practise ways and means to ensure learners’ engagement offline and online, and finally evaluate the learner effectively through a bevy of assessment techniques and processes (open book exams, remote exams, proctored exams, analytical and applied tests, presentations, quiz, live project, simulated project, debate, physical written test, model making, etc).
Making of massive open online courses, and ability to examine with questions whose answers cannot be googled or copy-pasted from a book are the new techniques the mentors need to master.
Learners Or Students
Eleventh, the learner has to move from a student mindset to a learner mindset, where self-learning becomes significant, learning within and beyond the classroom, along with learning from structured and organic syllabi both become the norm. They need to be equipped with smartphones, access to internet, laptop and the basic knowledge of learning management systems and platforms.
Twelfth, adapting to technology in sync with the changing time is crucial for the learners. As automation, robotics, artificial intelligence and machine learning become the order of tomorrow, learning is now a design function, changing with every learner. So, learners need to evolve to be creative, innovative, problem solvers, crisis managers, leaders and team-workers – all in one – besides being good communicators.
We have leapfrogged in higher education by more than a decade in the last 10 months, and the momentum must not be lost. We just need to blend the physical with the digital, the synchronous with the asynchronous, the concepts with the practical, the classroom with the self-learning space, all the more than ever before, and take resolute and visible steps, all within the coming quarter of 2021.
The author is Pro Vice-Chancellor of Kolkata-based Adamas University