Yash Merchant, Deputy General Manager for Branding and Corporate Communications, Great Lakes Institute of Management, Chennai

Yash Merchant grew up in Mumbai and pursued the ICSE at St. Mary’s – a school ranked 3rd across India in top ICSE schools. He holds a BBA from FLAME University, an MBA from Woxsen School of Business and a Post Graduate Certificate in Strategic Marketing from the prestigious Nanyang Business School (Singapore). In his role of the Deputy General Manager for Branding and Corporate Communications at Great Lakes Institute of Management – Chennai , Yash is the chief architect of the brand’s digital strategy and marketing communications. Before joining Great Lakes, Yash held managerial positions at Woxsen University and Citibank where he was responsible for digital transformation and brand partnerships. In addition to his professional experience, Yash has also been a successful entrepreneur in the food & beverage and luxury goods space.

 

Echoic memory is a part of our sensory memory register that is specific to auditory information, i.e.: memories triggered by sound. Some experiences are universal, and nothing stirs a pang of nostalgia quite like the ringing of a bell. Tension eases as you shuffle out of classrooms, engrossed in conversation, eager to get on with your day. Sadly, school corridors the world over are now a shadow of their former selves, desolate and noiseless. According to UNESCO data the pandemic is estimated to have affected 1.6 billion young people, accounting for 91% of the world’s student population. However, in midst of every crisis lies opportunity. These remarkable circumstances have led to some truly novel innovations and cemented the rise of the edtech sector in India.

Edtech in India has seen over $5 bn in private equity investments over the last 5 years. There are over 4,500 startups in the space including home-bred unicorns like Byju’s and Unacademy, who have achieved the elusive billion-dollar valuations. Key factors for the successful adoption of edtech across the country are the lockdowns due to the pandemic, increased internet penetration and easy access to smartphones. Also, with more free time at home and the increased need for reskilling, the young employed are eager for training and certifications. But it is not just supplemental education and voluntary training, as schools and universities remain shut the onus of delivering the same quality of education to students through a virtual medium fall on the shoulders of these institutions.

Most have opted to stream lessons live to their students via collaborative video platforms like MS Teams and Zoom. These platforms also have additional features like live polling, breakout rooms, scheduling assignments and dedicated groups/channels for communication.  But is the quality of education being sustained? What are the challenges they face and how do they justify the same expense for a virtual experience?

There are undeniable benefits to face-to-face teaching. Teachers get a better sense of whether students are able to follow along with the material. Peer interaction fosters healthy competition, dialogue, and easier collaboration. Lab exercises and physical demonstrations are far more effective. At technical and research institutes, this could mean access to expensive equipment to conduct research or experiments. Personalized learning, infrastructure and institutional prestige are the key selling points for any educational institute. But with the pandemic, most of these perks are inaccessible to students calling into question whether it justifies the price tag.

The pandemic has also amplified the digital divide. Students with access to faster broadband speeds and better equipment have a marked advantage. The same applies to institutions, private institutions with larger budgets and better IT infrastructure can provide easier access to content. Institutions will also require adequate support staff to troubleshoot issues quickly, which is critical for time-sensitive undertakings like examinations. Also, faculty retraining is critical. The curriculum must be restructured for the virtual medium, more multimedia content should be incorporated and a shift away from rote learning and towards unstructured assignments is the need of the hour.

Virtual learning also has its pitfalls. If proper ergonomics is not followed learners can develop posture and back problems. Extensive exposure to screens can also lead to eye strain, headaches, dry eyes, disruption of sleep patterns and a host of other issues. Institutions must be cognizant of this when they devise schedules, allowing for enough time to recuperate. Also, as it is an online medium, most students will inevitably multitask in class, checking mail or social media, chatting online, or surfing the web.

Apart from lectures, many companies are also offering solutions to facilitate proctored examinations (powered by AI/ML tech), scheduling and notification systems for teachers and students, track attendance, admission and fee collection management and much more. The most popular online proctored exam solutions include Test Invite, Mercer Mettl, Exam Online and many more that use your device’s screen share, camera and microphone along with AI technology to invigilate exams.

So, what happens when things go back to normal? Should we revert to the old ways? Institutions have already cleared the first hurdle; they have set up the infrastructure needed to facilitate remote learning. The future could see a hybrid model of learning, lessons that require minimal interaction can be recorded and watched at the learner’s convenience freeing up more time on campus for faculty interaction, group projects, lab exercises and peer learning. Institutions can also offer these services online for distance learners. Already many internationally recognized universities have tied up platforms like EdX, UpGrad and Great Learning to provide diplomas and certifications at affordable costs. A study by the World Bank established that the average rate of return in terms of earnings for every additional year of schooling is 10% a year. There is a large supply-demand gap in the education sector in India. There is an estimated shortfall of 200,000 schools, 35,000 colleges, 700 universities and 40 million seats in the vocational training centers. Online instruction is the best way to combat this issue and democratize learning for all without compromising on the quality of education. The same technology can also be used to enhance an on-campus experience by providing students with more flexibility, choice and personalization helping them truly make the most of their scholastic pursuits.

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