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Covid-19 And The Education System

Covid-19 has created a horrified situation all around the world laying its dreadful shadow on the entire economy and bringing it to a standstill.

In an attempt to stop the spread of the deadly virus, most of the governments across the world have temporarily closed educational institutions and sometime in mid March 2020 premises of the schools, universities and colleges in India were closed to staffs and students and the traditional black board-chalk teaching was switched over to the online platforms.

The nationwide closure has impacted over 91% of the world's student population and the UNESCO estimates that about 32 crore students are affected in India, including those in the schools and colleges. And therefore, the government came up with e-learning program to facilitate the continuity of education for all.

Covid-19 has prompted the experts in the education sector to rethink and bring forth innovative ideas to cope up learning during these days of the pandemic. But the question which arises is how long could we able to manage the students through online teaching especially those in the primary classes. No doubt that the digital education fills the void by facilitating the educators to come up with customized online teaching platform for the students, but most significantly it has brought in peripheral issue of e-learning in India to limelight.

Virtual Mode Of Learning:

Online education is conducted mainly by two methods. Firstly, by the use of recorded classes dispensed through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) and secondly via live online classes through webinars or zoom sessions. This requires the students to have high speed internet and computers or mobile phones to attend sessions and the faculty members to have the required knowledge and skill to deliver their information on these platforms. There are many such platforms in India supported by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) and the department of technical education.

However, only educational institutions in urban areas can provide these facilities. The questions are raised for the young learners in rural areas, and their growth. India houses 430 million children in the age group of 0-18years with a considerable number of students residing in rural settings. Many factors have to be considered while bringing forth the e-learning techniques in rural areas like archaic teaching method, shortage of teachers, poor teacher to student ratio and outdated teaching material. Though digitization of education makes it feasible for the teacher to deliver information across geographies, the basic ground realities pose a barrier in the path of complete online teaching.

Poor infrastructure, lack of strong internet connectivity, no electricity, lack of safety etc. are the other factors which are still needed to be addressed in remote areas for the convenient access of quality education to all. Even though there are many initiatives taken by the government to elevate the level of education in these areas, there is still a long way to go.

Article 21A and E-learning:

Under the 86th Amendment, a new Article 21A was added after Article 21 in the Indian Constitution. According to it the state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of 6 to 14 years in such manner as the State may by law, determine, making the Right to Education a fundamental right. In 2009, The Right of children To free and compulsory Education (RTE) Act, was passed by the parliament. It is the duty of the 'appropriate government' under Section 8 of the Act to provide free and compulsory elementary education, compulsory admission, attendance and ensure that the child belonging to weaker sections and disadvantaged groups are not discriminated against and prevented from pursuing and completing elementary education on any grounds.

The novel Corona virus pose a challenge to the government in providing the children of the rural areas with the required electronic equipment for the virtual learning as physical classroom learning has become unfeasible during this situation. According to the government's Key Indicators of Household Social Consumption on Education in India 2018, only 14.8% of rural households have access to internet facility and combining both rural and urban areas only 23.8% had internet facility. Access to internet in states such as Karnataka, Odisha and West Bengal is only 8.3%,5.8%and 7.9% respectively.

Parents find it difficult to provide their children with smartphones where they themselves struggle to meet ends and e-learning becomes a loaded burden on them. As a result, there are chances for the withdrawal of their children from the schools.

Section 3(2) of the RTE Act states that no child shall be liable to pay any kind of fee or charges or expenses which may prevent him or her from pursuing and completing the elementary education, stands contrary under the present scenario.

In Kerala, the education department has provided the maximum support to the students amidst the pandemic through online class named 'First Bell' which is telecasted through 'Victors' channel under the State General Education Department for classes 1 to 12, which is indeed a good alternative for those without smartphones to attend sessions without fail.

Impact of the Pandemic on the Student Community:

The next group deeply affected are those preparing for State and National level examinations and the final year students in universities and Higher Education Institutions (HEI). According to the International Association of Universities (IAU) Global Survey 2020 on the impact of Covid-19 on universities and other HEI's, a bit more than half of the HEI's are planning to conduct exams for the semester as planned, although the majority of them through new measures and only 6% as usual. 14% plan to carry out only part of the planned exams while others will be postponed or are on hold at the moment.

More than half of the 11% of HEI's does not discuss strategies for conducting the examinations for the semester and this is perilous signal because it means that students are left without the possibility of taking exam and are at risk of losing time, while no solution is being discussed. There is higher uncertainty in completing the semester and planning the next academic year. The extent to find out alternative ways of assessing the students become a big challenge with no clear answers. Arranging new form of assessment such as calculating internal marks and marks of previous semesters, giving assignments and projects could be adopted at this situation in order to assess the students rather than risking them to lose their time and year.

Another issue to be taken into consideration is the effect of the use of online platforms on student behavior especially the students with special educational needs, protecting the students from cyber criminals which may also hack the institutional system and also the procedure for conducting examinations. Online assessment cannot be secured against academic misconduct and other forms of educational fraud since the opportunities for such students to cheat individually or collectively are enhanced when examinations are conducted online.

The gender dimensions of the pandemic school closures cannot be neglected. The education department of the government must be aware of the threat that the closure of school would pose to girls and women. Without schools and colleges, which are places considered to be safer for girls, learning from home inside the four walls may heighten the risk of domestic violence, early or forced marriage and sexual abuse.

The pandemic has caused tremendous effect on education across globe and it has worsened situation amongst the vulnerable communities. Schools were a happy place where they could not only prove themselves but also escape from all the social evils. In order that girls are to take benefit from online distance learning, the schedule must be more friendly and flexible so that it could cope up with the domestic demands that are expected from them. It is also necessary to ensure that this pandemic does not elevate the number of female drop outs.

Perhaps the online teaching may not be a strong alternative for conventional education system but it can to a certain extent mitigate and compensate for the inconvenience caused by this petrifying Covid-19 pandemic to the education system. Learning is an ever-evolving process and in this time of crisis, a well rounded and effective educational practice through the use of technology is what we can count on to adapt to the future, irrespective of its bane.

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