Megha Jain and Saurabh Jaiswal Believe it or not – COVID-19 pandemic has not only played around, with the immunity of the human body but also with the basic Right to Education Act (Article 21-A of Constitution of India). Unfortunately, we are heading towards a transformed novel future that none of us could have ever imagined. It seems that there is an educational sub-divide created between Pre and Post COVID teaching-learning frameworks. Where, on one hand, much heard words like digital, online, e-resources, cloud learning, smart classrooms, MOOCs, Swayam initiatives, e-studios shoulder a bigger responsibility to metamorphose the gen Z (between 1995 – 2012) and gen Alpha (2013 – 2025), but at the same time the central questions that arise are 1)What is our preparedness to go live on these platforms? 2) Are these adequate and secure to cater to different sections of the society at large? 3) Are we capable to implement and adopt the dynamics of these rapid changes? 4) Do we have sufficient cost-benefit working mechanism with the available resources and infrastructure? 5) Are these equally feasible from the future generations’ point of view? Let’s make an attempt to find answers to above in greater details. Preparedness to go live on virtual platforms: During the phase of COVID-19,all the academic institutions are struggling today with almost no options available except the virtual platforms to continue the teaching-learning process. Since the corona pandemic outbreak, we all are well versed with the fact that none of the academic institutions are going to be functional like earlier times any soon. Undoubtedly, the things are already delayed way beyond, of course, at the cost of shaping future human capital. Just to quote; the current academic sessions (to begin from July every year in normal circumstances) are delayed for the colleges (to begin from 1st August), new admissions are stuck due to several uncertainties of unknown procedures. The story doesn’t complete here due to even cumbersome and herculean tasks now required for the primary and secondary education for the kids with gadgets like tabs and similar devices to be additionally hitting the pockets of guardians. The important point that remains unaddressed in the entire scenario is for the Indian rural population (65.97 per cent in 2018, as per the World Bank 2020 estimates) who neither have any access to cope up nor have the resources to meet the preliminary requirements of these platforms. It is quite ironical that the teachers themselves now, need to learn as students first, before teaching ‘gen-next’ who may be better equipped than the teachers in the current scenario. Adequacy and security of virtual platforms for society at large Different teachers are using different tools to reach out to students. The problem is that no single tool (platform) is yet able to provide a one-stop solution to the teachers for extending the live classroom experience, assessments, evaluations, lab experiments, extra-curricular activities, material handling and attendance marking. This is further aggravating the entire problem due to shifting to virtual platforms, adding only to chaos and confusion. Do we really want to get the physical classrooms substituted by virtual ones when even the physical ones used to remain insufficient? And certainly, these electronic mediums are always found deficient on important lifestyle-based connotations that are instrumental to the entire teaching-learning process. Virtual presence is essentially an e-presence but may not ensure mind-body presence. Hence, the adequacy of e-platforms to develop effective and efficient human manpower is a big question to be addressed. Also, in the wake of the follow-the-herd approach, most of the teachers are found to opt live video conferencing platforms like Zoom towards the end of the session in the month of April 2020. The same was lately announced ‘privacy disaster’ and ‘fundamentally corrupt’ by none other than Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) itself under breach of Cyber Security (PIB, GOI, Apr 2020). So, shall we still remain sure to use such platforms in future to conduct regular classes using one of such mediums? If not, then what – needs to be pondered more vigilantly. Capability to implement and Adopt rapid changes: In a country like India, where access and speed of the internet at outskirts always poses a greater concern; virtual reality to teach could only remain in dreams. Just to mention, as per one of the studies, only 8 per cent of homes have a computer with required internet bandwidth, too poor to cross any milestone (Scroll. in, May 2020). The problem is more prominent at primary and secondary schooling, where the parents now need to equip themselves with the current technological-driven advancements in order to remain competent for their children to learn and deliver. Smart classes may or may not make a child smart but have made their parents’ smarter. Incongruously, such classes are wholly dependent upon uninterrupted and smooth internet connectivity (so as to enable live video streaming) for not less than four hours per day (on an average) which would require additional expenditure to enable such facility, apart from allocation over and above school fees and incidental expenses. Are we saying that middle-income households have any access to the treasures of Alibaba? If not, then who is going to bear the incidence of excessive spending under the current depressed economical conditions with an all time low per capita incomes and growth levels. Cost modalities of available Resources and Infrastructure: It is quite unfortunate that premium benefit come at premium pricing, which means that in order to establish hassle-free pedagogy framework, there is a dire need of premium e-platforms which could be made available for free only in initial months but certainly not forever. Hence, these virtual paid versions/ subscription-based modules/ e-studios set-up for varsities, schools, and other professional academic institutions shall disturb the complete cost economies of not just the institutes but also the ultimate user (future human capital). Where from such funding and infrastructure (to set-up) would come to make it an effective teaching-learning experience? We strongly feel that there could not be any direct answer to this question. The situation remains even grim for marginalized households who barely could afford daily meals and are still struggling with the dilemma of choosing between lives versus livelihood under Covid-19 situation. I remember that we all were eagerly waiting for our ‘Acche Din’ at the beginning of the Year 2020 but never idealized such dreadful turnaround of the situation where even the future generations of nations might not witness any such ‘Acche Din’. Readiness of Gen-Next (Human Capital): As far as the usage of technological tools is concerned, current generation outperform the resource person but at the same time it has equal chances of getting misused. Already, there is a much hue and cry among the students’ fraternity regarding the conduct of the examination. This time the same has been scrapped by MHRD but what about the time to come. Virtual platforms are not foolproof. Moreover, Gen Z is far more superior to find out their ways and means to find an easy way to score excellent by existing loopholes in the virtual setup. If students are ready, so shall the teachers. The assessments and evaluations must be drafted in virtual modus-operandi even more carefully so that students shall not have any chance of escaping or misusing the e-platform set-ups. Also, it is going to be far more difficult to spot and differentiate extraordinary brains from rest among all. Of course, the students at the graduate and post-graduate levels are ready for the current intellectual reform, which is going to be the first time for the teachers for sure. To summarize, India already has been criticized massively on the global platform that the professionals and graduates from Indian academic institutes are found less to meet the global benchmarks due to their conservative teaching-learning pedagogy that stresses more on theoretical style over practical real-world experience (India Today, Mar 2019). The current shift to virtual/ online pedagogy further going to impact the entire scenario adversely due to India still being in the nascent stage to shift from theoretical driven methodologies to practical corporate realities. So, the entire focus of the new virtual-friendly curriculum (post-COVID) should be to uplift the quality of education in terms of practical proficiency so as to make the future human capital globally productive and hence, employable. At the same time, COVID crisis will indeed endow our teachers to teach virtually on these platforms. The entire syllabi of universities including the postgraduate level and the style of examination conduct needs to be revisited in consultation with respective think-tanks in order to have the least dependence on the pre-COVID scenario. Needless to mention, the earlier New Education Policy needs to be reconsidered keeping in view the COVID changes to make the distant dream of online pedagogy a reality. It seems that a novel disease has instilled a novel style of Pedagogy.
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