Published: 28th December 2020
How Oxford University Press' proactive measures to stay relevant came to its aid during the pandemic
OUP has seen several landmark events, often disruptions of varying nature, as also changes in learner preferences over time, said India's OUP Managing Director
The pandemic has affected industries and fields across the world and the world of publishing and education hasn’t been spared either. The Oxford University Press is the world’s largest university press which currently has offices in around 60 countries and publishes several education, reference and academic publications every year. The pandemic did present new challenges OUP and it was also a chance for the Press to provide its digital learning solutions designed to meet the learning needs of the contemporary learner. We sat down with Sivaramakrishnan Venkateswaran, Managing Director, Oxford University Press, India, to discuss the challenges OUP was faced with during this period. Siva has previously been an Executive President of Education Services at Manipal Global Education Services. Here Siva talks to us about the changing trends in the education sector, new age learning solutions, the impact of COVID-19 on OUP’s functioning, how the Press has helped teachers cope with the new normal.
How has OUP managed to cope with the impact of the pandemic? Could you tell us in what ways the pandemic affected OUP?
Oxford University Press (OUP) has a rich legacy of over 500 years of which we have spent nearly 108 years in India. OUP has seen several landmark events, often disruptions of varying nature, as also changes in learner preferences over time and the advent of digitisation in education. In the early months of the pandemic when educational institutions abruptly closed, we worked hard to identify ways to carry on meeting the needs of our customers and learners. Whether it was providing free access to resources on COVID-19 to researchers and medical professionals, offering free access to our education platforms, supporting professional development for teachers, or sharing guidance on home learning, we made our valuable content available to the widest audience during these challenging times. The biggest impact of the pandemic was felt by the educators and the learning community, especially young learners who needed engagement and handholding in a remote learning environment. Responding with agility, we added extensively to our vast repository of web-based resources and combined them with our print books while constantly engaging with teachers on remote teaching methodologies.
How do you think that the shift from physical classrooms to online has impacted how education is imparted?
It is actually a complete transformation if you consider aspects such as assessments, classroom interactivity and hands-on work that concepts such as STEM promulgate. While migration to digital delivery has been an enabler to a large degree, but the learning eco-system was less than prepared to adapt to it, especially if you went beyond the metro cities. The educators needed training and familiarization with digital and remote learning tools, an interface for parents had to be built into learning solutions as their engagement became necessary, and finally, learning resources needed tailoring as ‘visual’ became the core to most learning experiences, especially with young learners. The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital learning resources and given enough credence to the remote model of learning and teaching. One of the significant insights for us from this experience is that digital and print can seamlessly co-exist and a blended approach to learning stands to deliver better outcomes in the times ahead vis-à-vis a ‘print only’ or a ‘digital only’ approach. We are experiencing steady uptake of our blended learning solution from schools as the world gears up for the post COVID-19 era.
While EdTech has managed to gain a lot of prominence during this time, we continue to have lakhs of students who missed a huge part of the year due to lack of access to phones, laptops. As somebody who has been involved in the sector, how do you think we can overcome these shortcomings?
The ‘digital divide’ today stands exposed more than ever before. It is a sad reality that the less privileged are being deprived of learning for their lack of access to the internet and/or electronic devices in these times. The issue is not unique to India, it is a developing world issue that requires intervention at Governmental levels. In India, internet services are amongst the most affordable in the world – if we can manufacture affordable digital equipment, we can truly harness the potential of e-learning in our country. The mobile has already emerged as a proven medium to bridge the digital divide to a large extent. At OUP, we partner with several charities across the country to support the learning needs of the underprivileged. During the pandemic, we worked with the Hope Foundation, Kolkata to set up four digital learning labs at their shelter homes for children, enabling continued learning for nearly 300 young learners. We also supported underprivileged learners during the pandemic through our associations with Literacy India in Gurugram, Chudar Foundation in Chennai and Ritinjali in Delhi. In fact, several OUP colleagues found time to take online classes for children at these charities, displaying a great sense of societal responsibility – this is something that we are particularly proud of!
Could you talk about Oxford STAR and how the assessment solution helps to drive better learning outcomes?
Assessments are quite fundamental to the teaching-learning process. They help the school/teacher to gauge the effectiveness of delivery and provide insights and feedback to the learner for further improvement. While summative assessments are well established, there have been concerns on their efficacy as they generally test for memory and recall and not necessarily conceptual clarity. In the recent years, formative assessments have become popular as they not just input into the instructional process but are also a more continual and seamless method to gather evidence of progress in the learner. Unlike summative assessments, formative assessments can be conducted in both formal and informal ways – they are therefore more engaging and less daunting for the learner. Oxford STAR (Standardised Test for Assessment and Review) is a formative assessment solution intended to help students, teachers, parents and school administrators profile students' personality, scholastic ability and 21st century competencies and skills in a graded manner. This solution accelerates students’ progress by providing detailed remediation tailored to each student's specific needs. The solution is perfectly enabled to identify specific learning gaps and also course correct, thereby enabling improved learning outcomes.
Could you tell us about how the emergence of digital training and learning platforms has helped train teachers to adapt to the new normal?
It is heartening to note that teacher professional development is being talked about so much post COVID-19. For us at OUP, the teacher is and has always been the pivot in the learning ecosystem. It is so critical to familiarize teachers with 21st century competencies, skills and new pedagogies. Augmenting their lateral thinking and classroom management capabilities through professional development programmes has a direct impact on learning outcomes. Now, with the pandemic and its longer-term impact on the methods of learning and teaching, educators need to be trained quickly to get more digitally savvy and accustomed to the idea of remote teaching. At OUP, we make significant investments in teacher training – as an example, between April and October 2020, we trained nearly 90,000 teachers across 7,300+ schools through more than 650 online webinars to make sure that the educators are better prepared to cope with this transition. Several other private and government organisations have invested in training of teachers, which is a great sign as the ultimate success of any education system is directly linked to the development and competence of its teachers.