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Rewriting the pedagogy: Learning to learn during Covid-19

The sudden disappearance of the traditional classrooms, isolating each learner in his or her own space, makes one wonder whether online learning will continue in the post pandemic period? While the pandemic which has in some or the other way restructured 7 billion lives, the disruption it has caused to 1.6 billion learners ,enrolled for formal education, cannot be ignored.

While some believe that the unplanned and rapid shift to the online mode – with no training and insufficient infrastructure, is leading to a poor experience detrimental to sustained growth, others believe that a novel hybrid model of education will emerge, with significant benefits.

While most students may consider online classes, a period to multitask or an extended period to relax, it may be astonishing to know that studies reveal that the retention rate via online mediums is 25-60% as compared to 8-10% through the traditional chalk and board method. But yet again, these numbers only make sense for those with proper access to devices and the internet.

The reason why online learning is more effective is because the students are able to learn faster. E-learning (in case of recorded lectures and e-resources) requires 40-60% less time to study than one would require in a traditional classroom setting. Students can learn at their own pace, going back and re-reading, skipping, or accelerating through concepts as per their own preferences.

However, to experience the pros of online learning, a high degree of discipline and accountability for one's own actions is demanded. Among other factors, a lack of self discipline has been a cause of rise of mental illnesses during the pandemic. The rise in the cases of teenagers eloping with strangers unveils how much the student's mind is scared from being caged. The parents therefore, here have a quintessential role to play. Instead of being extended academic tutors for their children, comparing grades of their sons and daughters with their neighbours' children, it's time they focus on being mentors for life, and shape the character of their child in a responsible way.

In an attempt to create an efficient system for the masses, the education enterprise found it impossible to fulfil the diversified needs of the individual learners. Small-scale initiatives had emerged to customise learning in the forms of home-schooling, but again it's only in an utopian world that every single child would be able to be homeschooled.

Even with the glory and comfort of being able to access lectures from your bed, one cannot turn a blind eye to the right to education denied to many during these times, especially those living in poor or rural areas, girls, refugees, disabled, and forcibly displaced persons .The losses thereby threaten and erase decades of progress in the field of access to education. The consequence of this lockdown for the downtrodden may be heavy drop outs in the coming years as access to even bread and butter for some has become a matter of privilege. The midday meals at the government schools, once would ensure that most children received at least one nutritious meal a day but unfortunately circumstances have changed with learning becoming remote. Financing of education could also face major challenges, exacerbating tremendous pre Covid-19 education funding gaps.

The Global Education Coalition launched by UNESCO acts as the platform for collaboration and exchange to protect the right to education during this unprecedented disruption and beyond. It has brought together more than 140 members from the UN family, civil society, academia and the private sector to assure that 'Learning Never Stops'. Coalition members convene around three flagships, namely connectivity, teachers and ​gender, as well as support specific causes encompassing the educational recovery following the deadly explosion in Beirut. All the Coalition members are obliged to pledge for the protection of learners’ personal information, privacy and security.

Education, a fundamental right, also acts as an enabling right. It is a major driver of progress across all SDGs, as it does under normal circumstances lead to more justice and equality in society. Therefore, learning should never stop. The NEP puts forward a comprehensive set of recommendations to promote online education in epidemics and pandemics with more preparedness as an alternative mode of quality education, whenever and wherever traditional and in-person modes of education seem less plausible. While this move may be celebrated by many, the inequality online education has brought in the current pandemic should not be ignored. However, the new normal will be an added advantage to initiate good tidings in the educational ecosystem of future India under NEP.

The pandemic has forced one to rethink the entire education system. It has given birth to a very conducive environment for introducing path breaking reforms envisioned in the New Education Policy. The future of the Indian education ecosystem will be learner-centric, aligned with future goals and focusing on holistic development.

Some commendable key recommendations to take note of are:

ECCE (Early Childhood Care and Education) for children belonging to the age group of 3-6 years is to be regularized and be made a part of the school system by following the 5+3+3+4 design of school curriculum. This makes the curriculum aligned with the learner’s growth stages and focuses on the importance of foundational numeracy and literacy skills. This would be a substantial step towards improving the learning gaps highlighted in National Achievement Surveys.

The curriculum should be rationalized to allow for critical thinking, discussion and analysis based learning. Students are to be provided with more options to choose subjects of study, including vocational subjects. Likewise, the board exam is being restructured to bring about a more holistic system of assessment.

In Higher education, it seeks to make Indian education at par with the best by proposing a multidisciplinary curriculum to integrate humanities and arts with science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The undergraduate degree will be made more flexible with multiple exit options with appropriate certification.

The future of online learning with these new forms looks promising. The aim to double the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) to 50 % by 2035 opens up a huge opportunity for online learning providers given the limited capacity of the physical infrastructure and trained faculty. However, it would be interesting to note whether online education remains a source for the elite or becomes a powerful weapon bringing changes in the lives of the students even in the remotest corners of our nation.

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