Jerold Chagas Pereira is the CEO of mPowerO, an ed-tech SaaS platform for eLearning. Jerold has 20+ years of sustained high performance in operations and business development across electronics, retail, hospitality and real estate sectors and has held leadership positions at large Indian business groups such as Tata, Piramal, DLF and Videocon. Jerold has a Master in Business Administration from the University of Notre Dame and a Bachelor’s Degree in Financial Accountancy from the HR College of Commerce & Economics – University of Mumbai.
It has been 18 months since the first lockdown came into force, but even today there still remains uncertainty about when traditional in-classroom schooling will resume. Given the current pace of the vaccination drive, the fact that under-18s are yet to get vaccinated, and the shadow of a possible ‘third wave’, it seems that traditional schooling across all K-12 grades is still a good 6-8 months away, if not longer.
On the flip side, one of the big takeaways from the Covid-induced lockdowns is the wider acceptance of digital tools and platforms to aid learning. Four to five years ago, technology in education was accessible to only a ‘privileged’ few, and that too, primarily through ‘smart’ classrooms.
Cut to 2021 – e-Learning is not just much more widespread, affordable and accessible, but e-Learning has moved beyond the traditional K-12 board content. This is important since schooling is much more than math, science, social sciences, languages, etc. A lot of a child’s formation happens beyond formal education, and co-curricular or extra-curricular activities play an important part in cultivating life and social skills within school-going children.
These days children participate in yoga, fitness, chess, music, dance, painting and pottery, and other extra-curricular classes via online offerings. Such classes are no longer individual, after-school sessions, which parents enrol their children into on a voluntary basis. These activities form an intrinsic part of schooling and holistic education, which has been necessitated into digital form due to the lockdown.
Over the past year, whilst interacting with school owners, principals, and teachers of K-12 schools, I have come across many interesting use-cases of technology coming to the rescue, be it morning assembly, parent-teacher meetings, talent contests, debates, or even off-site camps!! At the same time, technology is not and cannot be a complete substitute for extra-curricular activities.
So where are we headed with technology and learning once we ‘defeat’ Covid or learn to live ‘with Covid’. Many habits formed during the pandemic are very likely to stay with us, albeit in evolved forms and/or functions. For example, as offices gradually start to open, there has been resistance from some quarters since WFH has cut down long commute times as well as help save money. Similarly, school-from-home is something that many parents feel is an acceptable option, provided there is a balance to ‘screen time’, and that kids do get some ‘in-person’ interaction with teachers and peers as well as the ability to run about.
What is like to emerge with K-12 schools, as an acceptable option to 100% e-Learning, is hybrid learning, where technology continues to play an important, but not over-powering, role. For example, in recent days there have been talks of the school week comprising three days in-classroom and two days at homeschooling. This “blended” approach will enable students to take part in activities like sports, practical, offline doubt clearing, etc when on-campus yet enable continuity to digitally stored learning resources for self-paced learning and catch-ups. This hybrid model will also ensure that screen time is balanced.
Similarly, what is also likely to continue, and possibly increase in scope, is the use of technology to deliver a variety of co-curricular activities since technology makes accessible best-in-class teachers to students in a completely different location. It is no longer surprising to hear of students in Mumbai taking classes in Indian classical music from a teacher in the USA or yoga being taught to children in Tamil Nadu by a teacher in Lucknow.
During the thick of the pandemic, I witnessed an inter-school Model UN (MUN) debate competition with students from different schools across India participating – the host school being in Jaipur, Rajasthan. Participants were able to form ‘virtual’ breakout groups, vote anonymously and participate as seamlessly as one might have if one had participated in person. In fact, in this instance, I would go so far as to say that the outcome of the virtual MUN was probably superior since some students who might have otherwise been geographically or financially constrained to participate, got the opportunity to do so.
With this ‘flattening’ of the world and ‘democratization’ of learning, more and more schools are starting to leverage global resources to offer a wider variety of extra-curricular options to their students. Volumes enable these institutions to negotiate highly competitive fees, thereby enticing more and more parents to sign up their wards.
In summary, it is evident that technology-enabled education, or e-Learning, is here to stay. And that such learning will move beyond the traditional areas of K-12, test prep, etc. Further, with the New Education Policy (NEP) 2020 taking effect soon and mandating greater emphasis on imparting skills and using digital tools, there is likely to be even more on offer by way of extra-curricular activities that will become available in a pure digital or blended form.