Shubhangi Mittal, a first-year student of Delhi University, is all set to go to college. She opens her WhatsApp, downloads the PDF file, listens to the audio lecture, and then moves on to the video chat with her professor to discuss the lesson. She is among more than 60 million students worldwide who are attending some form of online lectures in a post-coronavirus world.
“We use many online tools like YouTube, Google Classroom and others. The students understand the importance of continuing education. We are getting about 70 per cent online attendance and going forward, we expect it to reach the same attendance levels as we get during offline lectures,” said Dr. Anjum Padyal, Assistant Professor, Department of Physical Education and Sports Sciences, Deshbandhu College, Delhi University.
A new name, Education 4.0, is here to stay, until another significant disruption in technology takes place.
India is not new to online education. Many private and government colleges in the country had been conducting online classes. Very small aperture terminals (VSATs) are still used by top Business schools in the country to create a closed user group (CUGs), which offers online classes globally. However, COVID-19 has hastened the online education sector, and mobile networks have become the preferred platform.
Online education depends on several factors and robust connectivity is at the top of that list. COVID-19 has led to a successful collaboration between telecom firms and streaming companies like Netflix and Youtube, in lowering the transmission bit rate from high definition to standard definition, which was done to maintain the network capacity. It made more bandwidth available for a large number of users. Going forward, learning app firms could work together with technology providers and telecom service providers to develop tools that make learning truly enjoyable. They could also explore providing students with real-time experience of managing chemicals and operating machines. All this is only possible with optimum utilisation of network capacity.
To ensure that learning never stops, teachers are preparing lessons using distance learning tools, and parents are learning new teaching techniques at home.
Providing aid are the entrepreneurs offering online learning apps like BYJU’s, Adda24x7, Duolingo, Khan Academy, Witkali and several others.
“Post COVID-19, following the government’s 40-day lockdown, there has been a surge in online education by schools and colleges across the country. Such an exercise requires the availability of high bandwidth and the telecom industry is fully prepared with 99.9 per cent network capacity. Telecom companies have taken appropriate measures to meet the surge in traffic due to online education and other online activities,” said Rajan S Mathews, Director General, Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI).
Many colleges that have used online platforms in the past have made a smooth transition post-COVID-19. Take, for example, the World University of Design (WUD), which has been working on assimilating online learning across its courses for over a year
“This is a unique situation in design education, and WUD was the first to take the lead so that studies are not compromised and students do not fall back on their curriculum. The coronavirus outbreak has just hastened the process. We were the first to switch to an online mode, which is not only benefitting the students in India, but also overseas students,” saidDr Sanjay Gupta, Vice-Chancellor, World University of Design.
Other major universities in the country including Jawahar Lal Nehru University, Jamia Millia Islamia, Amity, Sharda, IP University, Lovely Professional University and Mumbai University are offering online classes across different subjects.
Sharda University has put together a contingency plan in which the faculty and staff are working towards ensuring a seamless transformation to digital/online learning via technology solutions like Zoom, Big Blue Button and Google Classroom.
“Online learning has a lot of potentials and even though it has been thrust into the spotlight under unfortunate circumstances, it is time that Universities and educational institutions utilize this tool effectively,” said YK Gupta, Pro-Chancellor, Sharda University.
Professional courses like Law are now being taught online. “Learning in the current situation is evolving, and legal issues about the online system of education will also evolve,” said Nishant Prakash, who offers coaching in Law.
Titiksha Nair, a fifth-class student of St. Francis School, Indirapuram, Uttar Pradesh, goes for her online school with the same enthusiasm as she did for offline. “It is fun, and I don’t have to wake up early to get ready. Moreover, teachers are being accommodative and take extra time to make us understand the topics,” she said.
According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), more than 1.5 billion school children around the world are using online education, following the global lockdown. Titiksha is confident that she can manage both offline and online classes with the same élan.
Schools in 165 countries around the world have closed due to the Coronavirus outbreak, according to UNESCO.
An ITU report raised an important question about online safety: have students, especially those who are new to these online tools, been informed about how to identify fake news and avoid phishing when researching for school projects at home?
“It is a challenge. Cyber security remains a concern with extra use of online education, telemedicine and e-commerce. We would soon witness a transformation in the way Law is interpreted,” said Pavan Duggal, Cyber Law expert and senior Supreme Court lawyer.
India, along with the world, is fighting the COVID-19 virus while ensuring education in schools and colleges does not suffer. The fight, it seems, will be a long one, and the way we educate our next generation has undoubtedly changed.