Shourie Chatterji, Head - Digital initiatives, Schoolnet India Ltd.

Shourie Chatterji brings with him 16 years of rich and diverse experience of working with government, private sector and multilateral institutions. He is also responsible for overseas development and execution of various innovative programmes in partnership with CSR entities, multilaterals, K-12 education institutions and direct learner engagement through digital initiatives. In addition to his corporate experience, he is also a co-founder of an ed-skills start-up EsdecsEdskillServices, based out of Kolkata. The company has won CNBC’s social enterprise award and secured seed funding from leading impact incubators.

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus has caused significant changes to all the industries including education industry. Around the globe, schools in over 100 countries are closed to protect against the spread of coronavirus, affecting the education of nearly 1 billion children. This pandemic has limited the students at home during the crucial months of their studies and exams, i.e. February to April – which generally includes a flurry of curricular and assessment activities. The shutdown was expected to impact the learning process to a great extent. But that is not the case, online has become the default mode of education during this extended lockdown period.

Education – Pushed to Change the Traditional Teaching Methods

Traditional learning is a form of learning that employs classic paper and pen methods in a fixed classroom setting. This includes an in-person instruction system, classic teaching pedagogy and training for teachers that use the assigned textbooks and other course material, including typical lecture-style instruction, assignments and exams, and homework for students.

Today most of the students are familiar with traditional learning. However, online learning can be an extremely rewarding experience, offering incredible flexibility and on-demand learning. Tech-led platforms allow students to interact with co-learners around different geographical locations, thereby developing effective self- directed learning skills. With the vast resources available online, they can identify what they need to learn, apply the information to solve a problem or question and even evaluate resultant feedback with the help of Learning Management System (LMS). All this helps in increasing their efficiency and productivity.

In addition to engaging students, digital learning tools and technology play an important role in sharpening critical thinking skills, which are the basis for the development of analytic reasoning. This medical emergency has made us realize the importance of skills students need in this unpredictable world such as informed decision-making, creative problem-solving, and perhaps above all, adaptability.

Schools Finding Their Own Way

In a matter of few weeks, coronavirus (COVID-19) has changed how students are learning round the world. Various schools across different geographical locations are employing different technology-led platforms- Skype, Zoom, Google hangouts, Google classroom etc for imparting online classes, some have even collaborated with leading edtech platforms for classes, online learning content, assignments etc. Education enabled by technology comes along with instructional materials as well as the resources and tools to create, manage, and assess their quality and usefulness. Also, thanks to the technology that is allowing to the teachers to become more collaborative and extend learning beyond the classrooms.

There is still great uncertainty as to when schools will reopen, thus, making digital learning important in this hour. This pandemic has revolutionized schools during this phase and when it passes, they may get back to what they were offering. Or traditional lectures may still exist along with the new-age learning tools and technology. In fact, classroom time then can be used for more engaging activities with students and completing class projects.

The Need to Democratize Digital Learning

A large number of students belonging to less affluent families or further living in remote places with no mobile network are being left behind because of the cost of digital devices, data plans or network connectivity. Also, a substantial number of teachers and students lack in tech-savviness, leading to widening of the digital divide and highlighting the growing need to democratize digital education.

Learning must continue for all the students wherever they are. Technology so far has proved to be a powerful tool for transforming learning, building relationships between educators and students to meet the needs of learners in the face of COVID-19 outbreak.

Teaching and Learning with Digital Technologies- The Future

The unprecedented lockdown period due to COVID-19 outbreak has forced immersion of learners in digital learning, proving that the education system is disrupted at the national level. Brimming with talent, the education system in India must continue to harness the benefits of new learning tools and products, reinventing the approaches to education and collaboration experiences. This may lead us to a new classroom model which is hybrid. These hybrid classrooms integrating continued ease of access to education, employing learning tools, new teaching methodologies and skills in a traditional set-up, could be an answer towards sustaining the current educational disruption and a brighter future.

Together with all the stakeholders- government, schools, teachers, parents and students can ride the wave of change. Only by democratising digital learning, all the educational disruptions can truly come to fruition.

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