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Covid-19 upended education, posing several challenges

Principals across schools have stressed that online learning has become a one-way ticket. Though successful at covering the loss of learning in the wake of the pandemic, it still fails to provide a comprehensible learning environment.

 

New Delhi: The city of Dijnns, Delhi is the capital of the Indian Republic, and a state in its own right with a zealous education sector. It is a knowledge hub with around 6,000 schools and about a dozen institutions of higher learning, catering to multiple disciplines with an equally vibrant shadow education. Bollywood films like “Hindi Medium” showcased this phenomenon and reflected high demand for quality schooling. All the educational institutions came to a screeching halt due to the current pandemic but gradually resumed their business with the aid of technology.

The cataclysmic events of Covid-19 globally had metamorphosed education, i.e. overnight transition from face to face to online learning, thereby unsettling its very roots. This was the context for upended education globally, but more so in India due to the grand digital divide. According to the studies conducted in the capital in the year 2020, this could be measured above the ranges of 80% in rural areas to more than 90% in the urban locations (Bhaumik & Priyadarshini, 2020). The research in progress, on how Covid-19 is affecting the access to education and technology with a gender lens (‘Gendered impacts on access to education and technology during COVID-19 in India’, 2020-21. The project covered the three most populous states of the country, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi.) aims to capture the data and gripping stories from the field, both using surveys and focus group discussions. Major findings from the study in Delhi have noted that gender seems to be a non-starter. Delhi at present seems to grapple with challenges of the availability of devices for each sibling in the family. Despite a macroscopic record of better online attendance for all school going children in the territory, students in the capital are still found facing issues with network. According to an article published in the Hindu, 22% of schools across the country on an average have internet access, while government institutions are much worse with just 11%, with Delhi at 85.69%. This is reported to be equally problematic for teachers who find it difficult to take classes online. According to the principals and teachers, non-synchronous network bandwidth between both teachers and students is a major cause of poor execution of online classes. These network issues are found creating high channel-based noise, disrupting the class discipline, consequently affecting a student’s motivation to seek clarity in subject understanding. A large number of principals interviewed in the study have also reported lower digital literacy as a leading cause of these poor results. Since digital literacy is reportedly low by the nature of the school and levels, students in the primary classes have been found to be majorly hit.

Principals across schools have stressed that online learning has become a one-way ticket. Though successful at covering the loss of learning in the wake of the pandemic, it still fails to provide a comprehensible learning environment. Online education remains an alternative only since it does not include counter questioning, students’ eye contact and other non-verbal cues, which are central to the world of classroom teaching. In the words of one of these principals, it is only feasible for self-motivated students, who are willing to walk an extra mile. According to the principals of rural government schools, compulsory e-device in the hands of each learner has widened the education gap for students from lower economic households. The number of smart phones with school children in rural India increased to 61.8% in 2020 as compared to 36.5% in 2018, although device availability was managed subsequently for these children by both philanthropists and Government of Delhi, problems like lack of e-readiness, digital literacy, safety spaces on the internet and a fear of being projected as extremely poor through video attendances have made them more resistant to engage in education.

Talking about digital literacy, the study found it to be better in schools situated within urban locations as compared to the ones in rural regions. According to teachers it has been a derivative of IT classes in urban schools. Since these schools have focused on teaching computers both in classrooms and in highly structured computer labs, the transition during the pandemic has been smoother for their students. Lower digital literacy for the students in rural regions has been due to a lack of exposure at operating computers by the student population. This awareness of lower technical skills, as found by the study, is a definite point of intervention for all schools. Furthermore, introducing this even in teachers’ pedagogy through effective training can be another significant catalyst.

Adding to the woes of cybergogy, the teachers also report that a paradigm shift to online assessment without any training for it is a formidable challenge in teaching. Most teachers pointed to the overwhelming gap between their conventional training and expected transition. It also leads to multiple health issues such as frequent headaches, backaches, higher body temperature, unhealthy increase in body weight and disrupted sleep cycles that come from longer duration of using computer screens for doing each teacher related school responsibilities.

Going by the data, the psychological troubles following a longer period of online classes are not far behind. To name a few, dissatisfaction with online teaching, loss of interest, decreased motivation and attention, higher feeling of uncertainty and boredom have been reported as some of the primary problems for the students. Interviews with students confirm an increased need of psychological intervention for stress management. For teachers, the list of challenges include feeling suffocated, anxious, confused and restless. A majority of teachers here also agreed to have lost a personal and professional life balance given the feasibility of time for students. Being the stakeholder, their minds were clamoured with constant stress every now and then, which led many of them to develop teaching dissatisfaction. Teachers found the discussions as very cathartic in venting and voicing their feelings. Since the data is largely collected from an elite South Delhi, the study becomes a cornerstone for understanding the situation of access to education and technology within the urban and peri urban spaces. Additionally, public schools in both the urban and the peri urban regions have been found to perform exceptionally well from different perspectives by providing psychological aid to children and making the region a cohesive whole. Initiatives made by the government schools in Delhi to foster these skills despite isolation from Covid-19 restrictions have proved to be exponentially rewarding. Several narratives of children and teachers quoting the pleasure of helping community and families from feeling lonely and stressed at this hour provide a silver lining in the trade. The results from this study can be used further to fill the lacuna of learning and digital challenges in the regional and national literature. Although the research had limitations of both time and space but given imperative of pandemic the learning are rich and far reaching.

 

Disclaimer: The study is a collaborative project sponsored by Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK. Professor Aarti Srivastava (NIEPA, New Delhi) is a partner in the above project. Ekta Chopra is an Early Career Researcher in the above collaborative project. Dr Sunrita Dhar-Bhattacharjee is Associate Professor, and Principal Investigator for this project, Anglia Ruskin University.

 

Covid-19 upended education, posing several challenges

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