Shantanu Rooj, Founder & CEO, Schoolguru Eduserve

Shantanu is an All India CBSE Topper and a Gold Medalist from the Indian Institute of Technology (Varanasi). He did his Masters in Management Studies from Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management and has completed his Executive Management Program (in Global Business Management) from Indian Institute of Management, Kolkata. A passionate education entrepreneur, columnist, investor and speaker, Shantanu has spoken extensively about his vision of the Future of Education – University 4.0 in multiple forums. A serial entrepreneur, Shantanu founded Paradyne Infotech in 1997 and Broadllyne in 2005. Today, he heads Schoolguru Eduserve, a TeamLease group company, helping universities to launch, run and manage their own Online Programs, Institutes to improve the employability of their students through its skilling program and corporates to build a talent supply chain and improve employee productivity. Schoolguru has an exclusive partnership with 30 of India’s largest Universities across 16 Indian states, trains 3.5 Lakh students on its platform through 9 Indian languages and manages over 200 degree, diploma, certificate programs. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has created the biggest education systems disruption in history—it has exacerbated structural inequities and has revealed structural gaps in pedagogical knowledge and infrastructure to support online education. Of course, schooling has not stopped completely; nearly nine in ten affected countries are providing some form of online learning (the ratio is tilted in favour of rich countries, compared with fewer than one in four poor countries). But an unplanned movement to only online teaching has its limits—for poorer children, the availability of a steady internet connection at home with a dedicated device to work on, seems to be a challenge. 

Closures will hurt the youngest schoolchildren the most. Social, emotional and cognitive skills such as critical thinking, perseverance, working in teams and self-control are indicators of many things—from academic success and employment to good health and the likelihood of becoming a good citizen. Primary schools present that crucial opportunity to fill up some of the gaps that appear in early years of development for several children; that opportunity is now being missed. Closures could increase the gap in school performance between children on school meals, a proxy for economic disadvantage, and those not on school meals. The problem is further compounded for these children with less-educated parents,with no one to coax them to attend the online classes and help them with their homework, the damage can cast long shadows.

On the other hand, this health crisis has stimulated significant innovation within the education sector, several countries have used innovative approaches to maintain continuity—from radio to television to WhatsApp. Remote online learning solutions were huddled together to maintain continuity; governments and organisations from across the world rose to the occasion and created alternative strategies. Schools put together resources to train existing faculty as many of these educators have not had sufficient professional development about online teaching and were struggling to readjust their older pedagogies in the new world of education.

John Kingdon, the political economist suggests that when the problem, solution and timing come together, it creates a policy window for significant change to happen. The global lockdown creates that policy window for education to shake itself out of the shackles and take a leap to the future. We need a shift from knowing to learning because google knows everything. Metrics need shifting from inputs to outcomes and institutions should be held accountable where there is a hope of rising and a fear of falling. Differentiation and Personalization are not about making thing easier for learners but about making learning accessible by tapping into motivations and abilities. Assessments need to shift from annual exams to regular feedback. Teachers knowing the content is not the same thing as their ability to create learning. Lifelong learning needs a continuum between prepare, repair and upgrade and employability is an important outcome.

The National Education Policy 2019 highlights a promising future—delivering quality education and ensuring that no-one is left behind. Dismantling the rigid distinction between curricular, extra-curricular and co-curricular subjects, the introduction of vocational skill training early on and focus on skills and competencies rather than marks and assessments herald a new dawn for school education. Emphasis on capacity building through proper teacher training, the introduction of data-driven technology inside classrooms and bringing in a culture of accountability shall all help create a new life form of education that shall be futuristic, student-friendly and outcome-focused. 

Flipped learning will become more acceptable as students may watch lectures before coming to class while class time is converted to learning labs with interactive sessions, applied learning activities and critical thinking skills. Differentiation and personalisation shall become the order of the day as remote learning technologies enables a better and easier approach to individual preferences. Use of AI and machine learning can help content being tailored to the specific needs of individual students. 

However, to prevent the current learning crisis from becoming a generational catastrophe, urgent actions need to be taken. 

Thorough planning for reopening of schools
Governments will need to work towards a comprehensive strategy to suppress the transmission of the virus so that schools can be reopened. Once we reach there, it shall be important to ensure safety for all, inclusive opening of schools, listen to all stakeholders and proper coordination with the state actors.

No compromise on education financing
The pandemic has pushed the world towards a deep recession that may have a lasting impact on economies. Governments must ensure that education is taken as a top priority and protect its financing through a mix of domestic revenue mobilisation, cutting down on inefficiencies in education expenditure and strengthening of international co-operation.

Focus on building resilient education systems
The health crisis has highlighted the importance of strengthening the resilience of education systems through a combination of focus on equity and inclusion, focus on risk management and focus on creating strong leaderships. This shall help countries respond quickly to any future crisis

Reimagine the future of education
The pandemic might change the world forever – the twilight of the handshake or the permanence of the face mask – the world is expected to be different after the virus recedes. The same may be true of traditional classroom instruction – several experimentations being done in online learning will help shape the future to a more blended format. But the success of any such initiative relies on proper planning, preparation and execution, and not sudden scramble to teach the entire course curriculum to a set of under-prepared students amidst a pandemic.

The circumstances of Covid-19 are painful, disruptive and confusing – the health crisis has caused severe levels of anxiety, disillusionment and widespread fear. Yet, as we navigate through the fear, complexity and uncertainty, it is also an opportunity to reimagine new life forms of education and learning. Once schools go back to normal in the future, the experiments in online learning, clubbed with appropriate pedagogy, right instructional design and tech-enabled platforms can help them create engaging, effective and resilient learning experiences for their students. Carrying these learnings to the new world of education would be useful.

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