How homeschooling and online classes can solve India's Coronavirus-afflicted education system

The EdTech sector was already booming but the COVID-19 outbreak made it the only way of learning. How will this shift the paradigm of India's education sector?
Image for representational purposes only (Pic: Google Images)
Image for representational purposes only (Pic: Google Images)

The COVID-19 outbreak has affected 1,251 people and killed 32 in India till now and if the WHO is to be believed, it is far from over. At a time like this, when the entire country is under lockdown and a majority of them are at home, students are opting for online classrooms and courses. The EdTech sector is booming and coming up with more wholesome experiences. But do these actually help? Can you actually recreate a classroom on the internet? We spoke to Nitish Jain, President, S P Jain School of Global Management, an Australian business school — which extensively leverages the power of the internet as part of their teaching methodology — with campuses in Mumbai, Dubai, Singapore and Sydney, to find out more about this. Excerpts from the conversation:

Privatisation of the education sector has been a talking point for many years. Do you think the sudden compulsion to shift to EdTech platforms or using them to deliver the study materials will make a good case for the private players?
Yes, I think so. That is because (usually) private players are faster to adapt to new technologies as they are willing to invest and take the risk in case the technology fails. And technology does fail more than 50 per cent of the time. Hence, education institutes invest in several technologies at big capital cost and stay with the winning ones. But we all know that technology has won most battles in all industries and education won’t be any different. Edtech includes some very powerful learning tools that include pedagogy, online tutoring, AI-driven models to assess learning styles, newer forms of assessment, etc.

Homeschooling is not something Indians are too comfortable with but as an educator do you think that helps? Is it a better option?
In western countries, homeschooling is a familiar concept, and many choose the same over sending their children to schools. In India, the ancient Gurukul system was also different from conventional schools. However, over a period of time, we have got used to conventional options. A complete and sudden shift to home-schooling might be farfetched, but we can adapt a model which includes both, online and offline learning to ease into the process. At our school, students have the option of selecting a module that is a combination of both, depending on their needs and comfort. For students and professionals who are working, courses that can be available in the comfort of their homes might serve as a better option. Homeschooling could also be a solution to rural India’s low literacy rates, wherein most children cannot attend school as they work to support their families or due to gender biases, as is in the case of a girl child. With online education and homeschooling, students can learn anywhere and at any point in time that may be a viable answer to the problem.

How much of our curriculum can we finish over online platforms? Is it a viable solution for a country like India?
It’s a question of using the right technology and having the right mindset. Not all online technologies are the same. Some are downright ineffective, not engaging and pain to sit through. Our school’s proprietary technology — Engaged Learning Online (EOL) — on the other hand, is a full classroom experience delivered using the latest sophisticated technology. The right mindset simply means having an open mind to receiving learning from home. COVID-19 has forced students to learn online and once they of got used to SFH (study from home) they have begun to enjoy the experience.

Many universities cannot vacate their hostels at times like these neither can they compel staff to work more to help the students. As someone who takes care of an institute what do you think would be the right solution?
Most colleges have called off lectures and have asked students to vacate campuses to ensure the safety of its students. However, in certain cases where this might not be possible, it is more viable to adopt a “prevention is better than cure” approach. Colleges can start by cancelling classes, seminars, conferences or any other activity that may require a large group of people to assimilate. Regular sanitisation of the premises and a provision of soaps and hand sanitisers for students and staff can also help prevent the spread of the virus. There should be a serious effort for social distancing. Not more than one per room. Staff must be accommodated at the campus itself  so they don’t need to travel. In these tough times, we need everyone to cooperate through gentle and empathetic counselling. 

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