Every individual across the world has been battling with the varied circumstances created by COVID-19 pandemic and is yet to fathom what it ensues ahead. Even after the situation pacifies, the perspective towards every dimension of human life must be re-thought and a new normal road map must be prepared. One of the facets which has the potential of expanding its grip in the post pandemic world is the educational sector. A pertinent safety measure taken by various countries was the instant closure of primary and secondary school, university, libraries, etc., followed by a sudden change from the classroom-based learning, among peers and groups to an online form of learning, which was resisted in pre-pandemic times.
The two broad objectives in this post-pandemic opportunity are:
- To improve upon the flawed delivery of education that prevailed in the pre-pandemic setting. The status quo of Educational reach in India is yet to become inclusive for all the sections of the society, elucidated by the illiteracy of 24 percent of Indians.
- That the online mode of teaching will amplify the quality of education.
The countries have reached a point where there is a need to switch from the traditional ‘chalk and talk’ mode of learning to a digital method of learning. The emphasis on technology and innovation fosters a paradigm shift from the conventional method of teaching to a more accessible and affordable mode of virtual teaching. It furthers in broadening a child’s horizons from mugging up to an advanced method of experiencing and pro-actively exploring, as to assimilate whatever has been taught. With this shift, there lies a potential for every student’s home to become his institute. Right to education became a fundamental right under Article 21A of the Indian constitution and was effective from 2010, when the relevance of internet and other digital platforms was at its zenith. The pandemic has pushed us into realizing that digitalizing education has the power to ensure its delivery till last mile at cheaper costs. This intent was also envisaged under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009.
In this backdrop, there are some steps taken by the government in this regard. E-pathshala is an online repository which contains NCERT books and many other learning courses. This platform disseminates the education course’s information in the form of compilation of videos, periodicals, materials, audio, etc. Swayam is another platform where massive open online courses (MOOCs) are available for higher education. Another breakthrough is achieved by Swayam-Prabha DTH TV, wherein with the help of GSAT-16 satellites, high quality educational channels will be telecasted for four hours a day and would be repeated six times a day. The faculties from India’s prestigious institutions have encapsulated the content of these courses. This would provide an opportunity to the rural children to learn in an effective way, without the availability of internet. The backbone of a robust educational system are the teachers and mentors involved in guiding the children, and that makes another portal named ‘Diksha’ pertinent as it connects the teaching fraternity across India, wherein they can learn and train themselves. A special emphasis is also laid with respect to the contents on this portal that furthers the educational requirement of specially- abled children.
Amidst the lockdown, many students are not able to physically attend their school as well as college lectures and hence, the relevance of National digital library is crucial. Many students are also stuck in a situation where they do not have their books with them or are unable to buy them amidst the restricted movement prevailing across the country. This online portal provides multi- faceted videos, audio, material, case laws, bare acts, articles, thesis, etc., so that the process of learning continues and does not come to a halt. However, there is still a scope of improvement in this amalgamated repository of books to make it holistic in its purpose. An effort must be made to include many other Indian as well as foreign author’s books, articles, research works. Another important aspect in digitalizing education must be given to the applied learning, which plays an important role in any country’s development in, science and research in many other fields. For achieving this goal, an initiative has been taken in launching the project called virtual labs. Herein, the experiments are in a simulated environment and it can be accessed by anyone at remote areas, with the help of internet. Many esteemed research institutes have collaborated with the government of India, under National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology. A major push can be given to encourage skill building among the youth, providing them the employment opportunities which benefits the country’s economy.
Efforts must be made to synchronize global institutes and student exchange programs to encourage multi-cultural learnings. The help of Public-Private Partnership can also be taken whereby the risk of investment into this field is shared by both, the government, and the private player. It is rightly said by Benjamin Franklin that “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest”. It is the underlying cause that has the potential of eradicating poverty, gender inequality, crime, and promoting environmental benefits and ultimately stimulates peace.
Another important field is that of artificial intelligence, which can assist the country’s vision for an effective digital mode of education by working out on the efficiency of the students as well as teacher by rendering opportunities in intelligence based game in learning a concept, mentoring and tutoring innovative methodology, preferred mode of training. Moreover, with the help of smart speaker’s launch in the market, a few villages of India have successfully made a transition wherein instead of a teacher’s physical presence, there would be facade like structure of a teacher embedded with a smart speaker or a voice assistant to assist the students in answering their queries with utmost patience, bringing in a soft and non-critical approach in correcting their mistakes. However, a pre-requisite for its efficient implementation could be only with the internet accessibility in such areas, that also in high speed.
There lie a few challenges in the educational sector of the countries, especially India, at this juncture. Firstly, with respect of the availability of internet connectivity in the far-reaching villages. If overcame, it can be helpful in various other ways to attain ‘India’s Digitalization’. Secondly, the availability and unaffordability of gadgets like mobile phone, tablet, laptop can also impede the vision of Digitalization of educational sector. Thirdly, with the COVID-19 protocol of staying at home, the challenge is to ensure a fair and bias-free mode of school and university examination, where in the present, there is no mind-map to go ahead with it at this point in time. We already have many lacunae in the current infrastructure wherein the students already face technical glitches in the examination centers while appearing for online mode of examination and additionally, in the institution’s websites while viewing their examination results, it becomes even more essential to call attention to this concern. Fourthly, with increasing cyber-crimes, there lies a threat of the misusage of data on such School or University portals. It must be robust and free from any scope of data leakage. There must be usage of anti-virus software to protect the system from any malicious attack, a strong password to safeguard the user’s account, a two-factor authentication scheme must also be chosen, etc. There is a high risk of pornographic or inappropriate content being uploaded on such educational repository, disturbing the decorum of virtual learning process. Fifthly, most of the teachers are technophobic because of the age-old and traditional mode of teaching methods practiced till now. They must be trained well to smoothly adjust to this new system. The institutions must take this as an opportunity to expand their IT department to separately manage the increasing load on e-content’s distribution. One of the most important challenges before any country is to focus on Information and communication technology sector as it would perpetually help in perpetuating virtual education. There is also a lack of digital literacy which gives rise to potential threat of victimization from a cybercrime. There is no dearth of number of applications that people have access to, however, a conscious effort must be made to mitigate the application’s access to user’s personal information as much as possible. These must be taken into consideration.
These have been age-long apprehensions that had deterred many countries from bringing this change in mode of learning. However, it is rightly said by Bruce Rauner that ‘crisis creates opportunity’ and therefore, the Pandemic has pushed us into giving in our best efforts to bring about a digital revolution in the field of education. This transition would enable students and teachers to prepare themselves for the new age of information technology.
 2011 census.
 The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, No. 39, Acts of Parliament, 2009 (India).