By Dr Jawahar Surisetti- Futurist, psychologist, TED speaker, bestselling author.
In the past fifteen months , we have seen an unforeseen new world emerging with challenges that were hitherto unknown to us or were not in the domain of our imagination. Before the start of the covid era which we may term as the precovid times , we were cruising ahead with challenges of improving the status of various components of education be it curricula , technology, pedagogy , life skills , etc . Come March 2020 , the whole world of education seems to have changed and the challenges today are not the same as yesterday. In the larger scheme of things it is more of access and sustenance today than the enrichment. Let’s look at the challenges and try to find out solutions for each :
1. Digital divide : we have India and we have Bharat . In India , there is access to Internet in urban , semi urban and suburban areas whereas in rural and backward areas there is no Internet . With online education being the only alternative, there is a large 37% population of students who are left out from the education system due to lack on facilities for online learning . There have been solutions to this like the learning box with all content and without Internet and voice based sms learning system .
2. Generation gap and technology : These days technology changes every two years and the generation of teachers and parents and the generation of students have a huge tech gap that makes the teachers’ life difficult when teaching online . With great difficulty the teacher has learnt teaching on zoom , Google meet , Microsoft teams or some other platform but by then the student has learnt to circumvent the system . So the teacher or parent control on the learning of the student and the discipline has become difficult because the student is technologically smarter than the previous generation. Teachers complain of the student switching off the camera whenever he wishes or accessing other sites , apps while the class is on . Parents complain that they are unable to monitor/ control the use of social media and other material online because of their discomfort and less literacy about the current scene of apps and the internet. So the students stay up late nights without the parents knowledge about what they are doing . The solution would be install apps on the student devices like “Apprison” available on Google Play Store or for iOS devices “Forest” app to be able to see the addiction levels , time of usage of particular apps and set the punishment or rewards for limiting usage of anything that you would like to restrict and the apps also suggest better and more productive things to do . Good for adults too for increasing productivity.
3. Dearth of emotion in education and learning: During the pandemic ,and the onset of online learning , although the satisfaction is that we are able to teach students online there are psychological challenges which we have totally ignored . In the precovid era , we were completely against the student usage of too much mobile or Internet but now we see that the student has no option but to learn online .But too much screen time is detrimental to the health of children so online learning is restrictive and cannot extend to the timings that was possible with physical schools . But this is not the major challenge . Learning is not just about teaching. The mother happens to be the first teacher of children because there is an emotional connect between the child and the mother so a lot of subconscious learning happens . The par on the back by a teacher motivates children for better learning and a stare or a smile by the teacher tells the children where they are are right or wrong . These subtle cues are the basis of learning for children in the classrooms which they are missing online just with a moving 2 dimensional image of the teacher which does not elicit emotions which is the most important element that provokes learning . This is the major reason of the parents complaining about lack of learning in comparison these days . The solution is the involvement of the family at home in the teaching learning process which will supplement the lack of emotions due to online learning. So if the teachers or schools devise exercises or assignments connected to the topic at hand and the family does that exercise the together then there is a better emotional connect to that topic at hand . Suppose the children are learning Maths any topic , let’s say for smaller children addition , they could to amazon with mother telling what all she requires for the month with quantity and the child adding them on a paper and to talking them at the end manually makes a good exercise. For senior children the modified exercise would be to find the ratio and proportion of the edible items in the groceries , cosmetics soaps and toiletries and vegetables and fruits in the monthly ration . I am suggesting use of Amazon or any other platform not for buying but for learning and remove the items from the shopping cart after you do the exercise.
4. Peer learning deficit : One of the most important learning happens through peer interaction , especially in adolescence. Students are missing their friends the most these days . They may chat online for hours but the shoulder to shoulder talks with friends , the touch , the smell and the camaraderie is all missing . A great deal of learning and motivation in life happens through peers . If the atmosphere at home is not conducive for learning, it is the peers whom students confide in and who support the students. There are many a times when the student finds sharing problems and finding solutions in his school or personal life with his friends than his home . Peer learning is an integral part of the learning environment and plays both negative and positive roles . Nevertheless in today’s scenario it is missing and is a major factor . The solution to some extent is organising online open debates , official chats , meets , farewells , get togethers , birthday celebrations, annual functions and not just online PTM and classes which we focus on , so that there is enough peer interaction . Yes it might not replace the physical meetings but something is better than nothing .
5. Health and wellness : This is a major issue these days . I receive close to 300 calls a day from students , teachers and parents on my Facebook Page “ Main Hoon Na – with you always “ on issues that are concerning mental health and wellness issues . The closure of schools and colleges and the challenges thereof are taking a toll on the whole ecosystem. Parents are stressed seeing their children at home all the time and worried about their future. Teachers are worried about the achievement of falling learning outcomes of their students, they feel that good students are turning average , they are also worried about their own future , salary cuts , etc . Students have become claustrophobic in their homes, no play, no extracurricular activities, no friends, no physical schools . Students in senior classes are worried about their exams , college admissions , subject choices and a vague hazy future . There are cases of depression, ulcers , continuous headaches which are consequences of these testing times . The solution would be for school counsellors to be constantly in touch with the students and parents , the school managements to take of their teachers through wellness workshops , insurance plans and other measures. There can be meditation and wellness sessions for parents, students and teachers by the schools and colleges on a regular basis which calm down tensions and soothe nerves that we are all going through the same phase and that there are better times ahead . The regular bombarding of negative news in the media makes it seem that everything everywhere is doomed . Whereas that’s not the case . So we could post positive happenings in the world in our social media or student and parent groups instead of sharing whatsapp rumours.
6. Lack of capital : The school system in India is such that we do not promote profiteering and that is in line with our preamble . But what has happened is governments are strapped for funds with the health hazards seeing diversion of all funds towards covid . So teachers are barely able to get their salaries and we are left with nothing to invest in technology infrastructure and other facilities. Even in private schools , with no surplus being allowed , their is lack of funds for dealing with such a situation and with parents also in trouble and default of fees , the upgradation required in these times is not possible . The whole public and private ecosystem lacks capital . For instance, the public health system during the pandemic was found wanting but we pulled up our socks , poured money and came up with covid centres , ventilator and oxygen beds , stadiums and auditoriums were converted into hospitals and we were geared up . Though education also has reached and alarming situation, the priority is low and we can do away with exams and compromise on anything and the effects are not immediately visible. The fact is that education is on ventilator, and students in the past 15 months have lost a lot of ground and so have the teachers and parents . The parents face financial issues and crib about the fee today but demand full services . Midday meal scheme in the government schools has gone for a toss and the poor have lost out on school education of whatever quality. It is necessary that we build a corpus for the education of the country , though there are deaths in case of deterioration of the health system but the deteriorating education means a bleak future of the country which is a more serious pandemic for us . We are looking just to deal with the present without looking at the future showing a short term plan which might help us now but will be detrimental for the days to come . It’s a wake up call .