Thursday, June 8, 2023

Unusual times

It has been said that education is the only means of growth in this world of breakneck competition. At an individual level, people succeed if they take education seriously, and follow the modern trends. At the level of a country, a nation, if the spending is more on education, the dividends are more in every other sector. Unfortunately because of the COVID-19 pandemic we have witnessed a huge disruption in the usual format of our education. The schools are shut, no classes can be held, and no exams arranged. As an alternative we resorted to the online medium. In Nagaland too the online education was take up as an alternative to the normal schooling, and to a large extent it involved the students; at least giving them a sense of being connected with the school, and with the teachers. Although there have been many experts who underlined the problems, and inadequacies in this format of education, but none would disagree that the online education was a great relief in this pandemic. Imagine schools remaining shut and no education happening at all. Indeed it cannot be denied that online education has minimized the damage to a great extent. Now, with the Unlock-4, restrictions on the movement of people and in the conduct of business activities by and large have been lifted. Although all sectors of socio-economic life have partially or fully resumed with well laid down SOPs, but all the educational institutions still remains closed. New normal in the educational sector is to conduct classes and examinations online. The jury about this new normal happening right from school education to higher education is divided. One group of people has readily accepted this new normal while the other group is questioning its efficacy. This difference of opinion calls for a critical review of the opposing viewpoints to reach to a logical conclusion about the issue. The question is whether online teaching is offering a perfect alternative to the off-line teaching? Protagonists of online teaching-learning process contend that it serves the purpose of education as effectively as off-line teaching and in fact sometimes better than the regular mode of teaching. It is also being argued that online mode of education enables a student to move at his or her own convenient pace to learn the subject as it allows to revisit recorded lectures again and again which is not possible in the off-line mode of learning. But antagonists of online education have cited various flaws, which according to them, render online teaching-learning process infructuous, like for both the teacher and the tutor delivering or listening a live lecture becomes boring and monotonous. It is also being contended that chat boards and discussion fora simply cannot replace the physical tutorials. Another glaring issue for online education is the assessment of students. Online examination poses issues of ethical behaviour and integrity. It is most likely that appearing in the online examination while sitting at home, students will resort to unfair means. Also digital divide is being referred as one of the most serious constraint to online education. There is large chunk of population that is unable, or struggles, to participate in digital learning for the lack of access to internet, etc. The administration must review all these concerns and come up with a workable solution. Having said that, a question that arises now is when the schools should reopen. There are varied opinions on this. Some suggest that arrangements should be made to open the schools sooner than later. Contrary to this there is an opinion that school children should not be put to any danger, because the pandemic is nowhere near end. In this situation the administration should take a very informed and nuanced view of the whole matter. One of the ways can be to go for a gradual, part time, and partial opening up of schools. As and when it is feasible to hold classes, and with whatever guidelines in place, the shift should not be sudden and total. Perhaps the online education and the normal classroom education can be mixed up to create a hybrid education model, till the pandemic is over, and we are back to the normal times.