By Fahd Hazarika
The year 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic have been nothing less than a nemesis for all mankind, but they have made one thing abundantly clear, and that is the fact that technology is the only answer to all our current miseries, constrictions and incompetence. While every soul on earth, every business, every little activity has suffered equally, as a citizen of humanity, it is the future of education that worries me the most.
The reason? Physical presence of students and teachers inside a classroom on a regular basis isn‘t a certainty anymore. Luckily, that is also not the only option anymore. Unluckily, the alternatives provided by Information & Communication Technologies are not completely ready and nor are the teachers and students who are supposed to use them. In fact, technology, as presently utilized in schools and colleges, is more of a problem than a solution, especially in the context of India.
Not every Indian teacher or student is adept at using computers and smart phones. Hundreds and thousands of students in particular do not even possess smart phones. For those who do, there are additional issues of connectivity. Some believe that body language of students can’t be understood and interactive activities can’t be arranged online, because of which communication sessions are ineffective. Then there is a problem of lack of attention when it comes to young kids because there is no one to check on them. While the list of technical, financial, logistical and geographical reasons why teachers (barring a small fraction of those belonging to high-end schools situated in urban areas) are struggling to deliver the goods in the online medium is endless, it is the adoption and acceptance in the mind that seems to be the bigger hurdle.
This poses another question – Does the average human mind react similarly to all kinds of change, especially, when it’s sudden? Not too long ago, when concepts like e-commerce and online retailing had been introduced, they were greeted by consumer responses like – ‘’It’s not a real store’’, ‘‘they’ll misuse all our data’’ and ‘’what about credit card theft?” and other ‘negative’ responses. Today, here we are with some of the biggest e-commerce giants ruling the roost worldwide. Even regular meals that could easily have been prepared in our kitchens today are being ordered online.
Going further back in time, the telephone was at first criticized for ‘invasion’ of privacy! Not just that, Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of Radio, doubting his own invention once said, “Have I done the world good, or have I added a menace?” And to top it all, ancient Greeks, it is said, were afraid of something as fundamental to the human mind as writing because it would produce forgetfulness, Socrates believed.
So basically, it is a historically established fact that no change, however sensible, that eventually got adopted and accepted by the society, was initially welcomed by those who lived through the transition. Very similar is the condition of the human race in this post pandemic world. We have newer, advanced and ever evolving communication technologies, but we’re either afraid of futuristic advancements, or just unsure about whether the change will bring about more productivity in anything that we do.
Yes, it’s hard to understand the notion of leaving behind the conventional classroom, especially if it’s to face this vast space called the Internet. Does this mean that there is no hope? Absolutely not! A lot will change as community online teaching emerges as an option worldwide. An infrastructure that can cater to the needs of students and teachers in the remotest corners of the country will not only address technical gaps but will also produce acceptability. Stakeholders, particularly students, are skeptical because they aren’t confident that online services will be accessible to one and all. That confidence has to be built through preparation and inclusiveness.
Every student/teacher must feel that they belong. Everyone must feel connected, empowered. Online systems are not only required for providing additional academic support upon return of normalcy, but also for conducting regular classes in case of similar emergencies in the future. As online teaching grows in relevance and acceptance and stakeholders get increasingly familiar with the medium, we might witness an emphatic emergence of centralized teaching systems across the entire country. Once this idea grows, students and teachers will have more flexibility, more options to choose from, ability to access classrooms from anywhere in the world and that will definitely be more time and cost effective in comparison to traditional methods of imparting education.
In conclusion, I want to reiterate that the mental transformation from a familiar and time tested teaching methodology to a whole new virtual world of teaching is not going to be easy; nor was it meant to be, but with the luxury of leveraging technology in education suddenly becoming a necessity, the writing is on the wall.