Online Education: The New Normal

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- Anjan K Behera, Asst. Dean (School of Humanities, Business, & Economics)

 

 

Nagaland reported its first COVID-19 case on the 12th of April, 2020, adding a digit to the existing 24,03,963+ cases worldwide. Educational campuses in the state were shut down on the 17th of March as a preventive measure against the spread of the virus. This placed the fate of the semester students in limbo, as their End Semester Examinations was due to begin from the 2nd of April, which now stands indefinitely postponed. For high school, higher secondary, and postgraduate students, the closure of educational institutions has disrupted the flow of regular classes. In an article published on the UNESCO website, its Director-General Audrey Azoulay said, “While temporary school closures as a result of health and other crises are not new, unfortunately, the global scale and speed of the current educational disruption is unparalleled and, if prolonged, could threaten the right to education”. The obvious solution stares us in the face, the question is, are we ready to move into this new normal?

 

Ironically, wars have always catapulted human society into massive advancements in technology and science. World War I pioneered the Air Traffic Control system, submarine technology, sanitary napkins, while World War II brought in pressurized aircraft cabins and jet engines, and mass production of penicillin, ballpoint pens, milk powder, and instant coffee. With the present pandemic situation being termed as World War ‘C’, I project that Online Education will be one of the biggest takeaways from this pandemonium. COVID-19 hasn’t invented Online Education, it has only projected it as an accepted and much needed alternative to on-campus classes. Breaking away from traditions always requires a revolution. Academics in countries like India have always been wary of the novel forms in and mediums through which education is disseminated. Distance education was somehow accepted as an alternative to regular campus classes, and yet institutions like IGNOU still insist on handwritten assignments. There was (and to a great level there still is) a fear of merging technology into existing practices.

 

No one likes change. When my institution decided to continue with virtual classes during the lockdown, everyone naturally was apprehensive. In due time, however, we were able to get accustomed to this new normal. Students are able to make presentations, submit assignments, revise, attempt revision quizzes, attend live lectures, all from the comfort of their homes. COVID-19 may have disrupted every sense of normalcy in Nagaland, but it has not been able to impact education for those students whose institutions have swiftly made the transition to online mediums. The biggest contribution that online education has is that it is providing students with some sense of a constant during this time.

 

As educators, we simply cannot ignore the necessity to move education to online platforms urgently. It is safe to categorise colleges and universities as the main ‘industries’ of Nagaland, and it is important to keep them running, especially when there is a readily available alternative to do so. Taking a break from education makes sense if students utilise the time to gain work experiences, undertake internships, or maybe even travel and explore the world. None of these alternatives are available right now. Students actually look forward to these online classes because it helps them stay engaged productively.

 

It is imperative to understand that for education to make this move, institutions which already had infrastructure and expertise capable enough to handle online education even before the virus had hit, obviously have the upper-hand now. Their students and faculty are comfortable with the online mode of education because some portions of their classes already had online components. My alma-mater Christ University, for example, had integrated IT into their curriculum as early as 2006. The progress towards online education has been stunted in Nagaland however. The reasons are obvious, and this definitely makes the implementation of online education as a statewide norm challenging. Hypothetically, if we had a few months to prepare for this extended period of social isolation, maybe then, even the remotest village might have had some time to improve internet connectivity and digital infrastructure, thus enabling all learners to participate. This is not the case, and we now have a digital divide.

 

That does not translate into defeat! Just this evening I helped my mother, someone who studied with slates and chalk in her school days, use Zoom for taking online classes. With some help from her colleagues and me, and her own ingenuity, she is all set to teach her high school students. I could not be more proud of her, and of everyone else who is embracing technology and understanding the merits of online education. We might not be able to improve our networking infrastructure at the moment, but we can change our mindsets and reconsider the positives of this system during times like these. The first few classes will definitely run into problems, but as the days go by, we will be able to adapt ourselves into this new system. It's not just about teaching students, this is a great opportunity for teachers to upgrade their skills. Websites like EdX, Coursera, and Udemy (offering heavy discounts at the moment) have a plethora of courses being offered by international universities which teachers and students can enrol for. Google Inc. has rolled out free training modules to teachers on distance education and has made the premium version of Google Meet free during this period. WhatsApp, Microsoft Teams, and other such platforms are also updating themselves to cater to this need for connecting during social distancing.

 

Harvard researchers predict the necessity of social distancing till as long as 2022 if a vaccine or cure is not found sooner. Life, however, cannot stay dormant. We must move ahead, adapt, and empower ourselves. Online education in the time of World War ‘C’ is going to create a new chapter in the field of education, and let us be a part of this revolution!

 

 

Degree of Thought is a weekly community column initiated by Tetso College in partnership with The Morung Express. Degree of Thought will delve into the social, cultural, political and educational issues around us. The views expressed here do not reflect the opinion of the institution. Tetso College is a NAAC Accredited UGC recognised Commerce and Arts College. The editors are Dr Hewasa Lorin, Dr. Aniruddha Babar, Dr. Pfokrelo Kapesa, Webei Tsühah, Meren and Kvulo Lorin. For feedback or comments please email: dot@tetsocollege.org.