The Covid19 crisis has totally disrupted the global economy that abysmally affected every sector in some or the other way. There was an unprecedented announcement of lockdown done expeditiously to tackle the pandemic in a phased manner that ultimately led to the provisional closure of educational institutions in an attempt to contain the spread of the COID-19 pandemic in India which consequently affected learners ranging from school going children to millennial postgraduates and research scholars. There is still a long term ambiguity for the education sector as the cases are mounting exponentially. As per the UNESCO report the pandemic will adversely impact over 290 million students across 22 countries due to the closure of schools in the wake of the lockdown. The UNESCO also estimated that about 32 crores students affected in India including those in schools and colleges. Needless to say that the shutting of educational institutions will not only weaken the essentials of students, but it will also lead to loss of human capital as well as economic opportunities in the long run. World Bank told that it will profoundly impact the countries where education is grappling with low learning outcomes and high dropout rate.
To tackle this onerous menace, almost every educational institution is embracing e-learning to sustain the momentum which is now becoming a new normal. The COVID-19 has raised the red flags in the education industry and pushed its way to digital development. There has been widespread turnaround in the virtual mode of education due to the ubiquitous internet connectivity, the abundance of smart phone with significant technological advancement. There are many education technology firms seeking lucrative opportunities through e-learning development by offering free online classes or attractive discounts on e-learning modules. This is the high time to seek an opportunity in disguise for online education. Digital education can be considered as feasible solution to fill in the void created by the absence of classroom education. It will promote inclusive education if intact with mainstream education across the geographical boundaries. This will enhance the educational maneuvering of the educators so that they could mend the problems of every student with new solutions. The Union Government has also announced it will allow the top 100 universities to offer online degree programmes from May 30, 2020. The Centre has also announced the launch of PM e-Vidya Programme for multi-mode access to digital online education consist of DIKSHA which will provide one-nation-one-digital-platform facility with a dedicated channel for each class from Class 1 to Class 12.
Although it can be seen that digital education is not free from impediments as the traditional Classroom communication has a penchant over online education. E-learning is likely to witness a high dropout rate due to the lack of atmosphere for studying as they might tend to get distracted by gaming consoles, social media at home and might not feel a sense of community while taking online classes. There is still a long way before digital learning to be considered as a mainstream education because students from metropolitan cities have the facilities to opt for digital education whereas students residing in rural outskirts of the cities do not have the required infrastructure nor are financially viable to avail the resources required for digital education. It will remain a horrendous task for India to address and to bring online education to the new normal due to mammoth rural population and its vision for the incessant access to the Internet is far from reality in Tier 2 and Tier 3 remote cities in India.
Decoding the complexity of Higher Education Institutions
The ongoing pandemic has significantly disrupted the higher education sector globally. A large number of Indian students who are enrolled in many Universities abroad, especially in worst affected countries are now leaving those countries and if the situation persists, in the long run, there will be a significant decline in the demand for international higher education also. The unprecedented pandemic has totally destabilized all the educational activities including the shutdown of the regular classes and the deferral of almost every entrance tests for the higher study in India ultimately poses a challenge in the career of myriad aspirants for higher education. The palpable solution for the institutions is to adopt virtual mode of learning and teaching. The Higher Educational Institutions have started conducting orientation programmes, induction meetings, webinars and counseling classes with the help of different e-conferencing tools like Google Meet, Skype, and YouTube live, Facebook live, WebEx etc. to provide support services to the students. The research activities got affected in a certain way as it also made impossible for researchers to travel and work together with others nationally and internationally and also scientific laboratory testing/research work could not be conducted in a desired way. There may be some favorable outcomes as the researchers got enough time to improve their theoretical research work. Academicians got acquainted with technological methods and improved their research. Webinars and E-conferences is becoming a new normal for sharing expertise among students and academicians around the globe with similar issues which could improve professional development and acquaintance in a stipulated time period .They enhanced their technical skill and could get the scope for publishing articles in journals, publishing books in this free time. The educational assessment system got severely affected as approximately all the external examinations have been postponed or cancelled and institutions are taking the cognizance of the internal assessments to promote the students. The decision on conducting exams or promoting final year students is yet to be taken by the Honorable Supreme Court after a petition filed for challenging the previous order of UGC making mandatory for all the higher educational institutions to conduct the examination for final year students. There is still uncertainty and ambiguity for the final year students as merely awarding the degree based on internal assessment without adopting the appropriate mode of written examination would lose the credibility, accuracy and global acceptability of their certificates and degrees which would jeopardize their future.
Some Policy Implications:
We are in the midst of the ubiquitous crisis ispo facto which needs to tackle punctiliously as the change is inevitable that has to be utilized in an enhanced way to create opportunity in disguise. New technologies will certainly challenge the traditional paradigms such as classroom lectures, modes of learning and modes of assessment. The new trends will allow the education sector to adopt the new ways of teaching and learning. There is an imperative need of financial budget to buildup the colossal infrastructure for imparting the online education in a prosperous way. Immediate measures are prerequisite to lessen the effects of the pandemic on job offers, internship programs, and research projects. Some instant measures are required to minimize the effects of the pandemic on job offers, internship programs, and research projects. There is need for the establishment of quality assurance mechanisms and quality benchmark for online learning programmes must be developed and offered by Higher Education Institutions in India keeping in view of rapid growth of the online learning platforms.