Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Reflection needed

If we were to examine the current education system in Nagaland, obviously a lot of questions will come our way. Is the system working efficiently, to the best of its capacity or is it entirely in doldrums? Of course, the answer lies somewhere in between. We are neither super successful nor have lost track entirely, and indeed lot of efforts are needed to bring back the glory to the institution of education. We are also well aware that the COVID-19 pandemic has hit education badly. Can we imagine millions of students across the world have not gone to school for over 8 months now? Governments, both national and state, responded with different interventions to overcome academic losses to students. Educational institutions across different levels were put on online mode, and to be fair to the governments, this seemed the only option, especially during the initial phase of the pandemic. Now when we look back and reflect on the efficacy of the virtual mode of learning, we are probably better positioned to see the pros and cons of this learning mode. There is no doubt that we had minimal options, but we must be mindful that there are millions across the world who have had no fortune to attend any sort of online class because of many issues confronting each one of them. The first and foremost issue with many of our student community across the board was accessibility to devices and the required technology. We know that a healthy percentage of our people had accessibility issues vis-à-vis devices and technology. We assumed that just because we have switched over to online mode, everyone will join, while there are people who cannot afford a basic version of a mobile phone. In some cases even if they get a mobile phone somehow, can they afford internet connection? Then there are internet connectivity issues. These are some of the questions we need to ask and probably should take into consideration before initiating any debate on the efficacy of online education. The tendency has been one size fits all, without taking ground level feedback. Unless an organization takes feedback from ground zero and analyses it critically, we cannot produce robust means of reaching the student community. We are aware that we live in a society that is unequal and have many systemic issues. In education, we must make sure these gaps are bridged. Sadly due to overemphasis on online education and since people are not able to access these platforms due to reasons mentioned, we are widening these gaps. By this mere standardization of virtual education, and by trying to completely replace the old face to face interaction, we are treading a dangerous path. Education is not merely listening to the boring lectures of teachers, whether online or offline; it is a socialization process; it means a particular student learns everywhere on campus, at the canteen, in the library, or simply chatting with a friend under a tree. By normalizing online education, we could end up putting thousands of our poor students at the margins, whereby they will not be able to learn the necessary skills of life. Clearly it is time we revisit our strategy to reach out to our students and let us have tailor-made solutions as per the specific contexts and help them overcome these difficult moments in their lives. So far as evaluation and examination are concerned, the less we talk the better it is. Of course, there are ways to evaluate students online. Still, due to many reasons, our system of evaluation has become a mockery, and we have reached a stage where everyone in the system gets 80% to 90% marks whether he/she knows anything or not. We have arrived at a stage where the capacity of our examination/evaluation system to distinguish between different students based on their ability has been thrown to winds. We all need to ask ourselves a very important question: Do we have the necessary IT infrastructure in place for smooth conduct of online education, and examination? Second, whether the virtual mode of education can produce the desired learning experience or not. Sure saving a year or two of a student is not a bad idea at all, but this should not be at the cost of quality education. For at the end of the day, our children must have to face the larger competitive environment outside.