The COVID pandemic hit the world, and it took the world a month before it was declared a pandemic.
With the underprepared health systems, doctors, frontline health workers, and paramedics, it is much more complex to manage the situation in countries like India, where population and population densities in the urban areas is high. While there has been an improvement in the health systems, and the availability of the testing kits and quarantine hospitals have increased, the number of infections, and the number of fatalities, are only increasing currently at alarming numbers.
This has interrupted life as normal, and has also interrupted the entire education system, from early childhood education to school education to higher education. It is uncertain when the schools will open. And even if they do, the parents and families will be wary of sending their children to schools. The government schools have the largest share in school education.
The children in urban, upper middle income groups can afford computers and an internet connection to benefit from online education. The effectiveness of online teaching-learning practices is only evolving now, but most schools already do have an online program. Given that the pandemic will stay on for a few more months, the choices with us are homeschooling or online education.
While the children are at home, with their family members, there is a lot of teaching-learning that happens. A child anyway does not stop learning, because it is inherently curious. When the kids at home are actively involved, they learn even more.
My own personal experience is that, in the process of teaching my grandchild, I am learning a lot myself. With their energy, innocence, the attention spans being relatively lesser when compared to older children, we learn a lot of patience and derive a greater sense of satisfaction. The social skills they acquire by interacting with other children of the same group are, however, mitigated to a certain extent.
Given the spread of the pandemic, it is probable that the 2020-2021 academic year is a washout, unless of course a vaccine becomes available quickly.
Let us look at all the key stakeholders involved in planning, development, and strategising the transformation of education from the regimented, template-like system that we have created for ourselves, and have become prisoners of.
I was reflecting on how the classrooms were configured when I went to school in 1971-1979, and how the classrooms were configured when my daughter went to school: nothing had changed, except that there were more students in a classroom.
How is it looking today with myself being involved in running a school?
It still looks the same as to how classrooms are designed and arranged, except that there is the availability of smart digital content, interactive white boards, well prepared lesson plans, etc. There are more outdoor activities and learning events, the Innovation Centre, etc., that make learning much more interesting.
Can we provide a similar experience at home? In our school, we have designed numerous learning activities that fit into a kit. Similarly, a complementary kit will also be made available to the teachers. So, apart from having to watch a lecture of a teacher, they will have access to interactive worksheets and also perform the learning activities provided in the kit.
During this period, we can make online learning interesting not only based on the curriculum, but also by inviting experts in different fields to do interactive webinars. I am sure it will also help the parents unlearn and learn more out of these webinars.
While it is true that there is the fear of the virus, we cannot stop life: whether it is an online business or a manufacturing setup. We have to run our businesses with utmost care by implementing the SOPs. Digital and online businesses prefer to work from home, with lowered risk.
At the government schools in rural areas and semi-urban areas, where a lot of basic wants like potable water and living facilities are still found wanting, this is the right time for the governments to plan for bringing in a transformation. The government schools in Delhi have done it. Why cannot the other state governments use the same model?
Instead of doing that, what are we trying to accomplish by bleeding the HONEST and TRANSPARENT private, unaided schools? The core problem is that the private and unaided schools have created a perception of being money-making machines. It is partly true, but many such great schools are run with a passion and a constant perseverance to differentiate themselves, stand out, and create a benchmark. Should India fail in its fundamental ‘Right to Education Act’ by harassing all these schools that are at the mercy of the bureaucracy?
The government has to articulate a clear policy for private, unaided schools and give them the freedom to improve their quality of education, and in the meantime also upgrade government schools.
The school ownership, the educators, the teachers, the parents, and most importantly, today’s children, are the nation’s treasure. Let us nurture this network.
If we bounce back and deliver high quality school education by providing some time and space to make the children innovative and creative, we will be installing a sense of pride and good value systems that they will carry into higher and university educations. By doing these, we can retain a large number of great minds and talent in India. They are going to other countries for better higher education with research facilities.
New India should transform its education and skill training system. It should make ‘doing business easier’ and also make ‘conducting life easier’. It is a big reformation, but it has to be thought through and planned now. Otherwise, we will lose the opportunity for the next generation also.