Due to the pandemic, there has been a heightened interest in online learning and teaching classes. The race towards adoption of digital learning has brought to the surface certain issues and challenges which directly impact a wider adoption.
The key issues coming up are around access and more specifically point to the lack of adequate digital infrastructure, readiness of teachers in terms of training on the online medium and familiarity with the digital platforms per se. It may not be out of place to mention that in many cases the adoption of the online medium is more in response to the commercial and market considerations than any conclusive analysis of effectiveness and outcomes.
Number of studies have been conducted by both government and private bodies in recent times to understand the impact of the pandemic on the learning in schools and colleges and more specifically in government schools. One such study has been carried out by the Azim Premji University covering 80,000 students across 1522 schools and teachers with 398 parents spanning a geography of 5 states and 26 districts. Another study was carried out by QCI and NABET together in Delhi NCR specifically with a focus on the schools and the adoption of online learning. Let’s look at some of the key findings to understand what the issues in public schools are and their impact on the online learning.
What are the findings?
Access to online learning opportunities
On an average only 40% of the students were attending classes online which means around 60% cannot access online learning opportunities. Just about 31% children had access to smartphones for online classes. Amongst the parents about 22% had more than one smartphone hence access to adequate digital infrastructure has come out as an acute issue in the larger part of the tier II and III towns.
Online education ineffective in providing actual education
Almost 80% of the teachers find the online medium rather ineffective due to the lack of any emotional connect on the medium. Teachers feel the online medium does not allow any peer to peer to interaction nor does it allow any emotional and cognitive exchanges which are vital for any learning.
A large proportion almost 90% of the teachers also mentioned that no meaningful assessment of children’s learning is possible on this medium which simply put means that the teachers are yet to figure out a substantive methodology to assess the learning outcomes. “It is mostly one-way communication; we make PPTs and share pictures and videos. But it is difficult to know how much children can follow. It also feels bad that majority of the students are not able to participate in the class. We do not know what will happen to those children” say some teachers in government schools across Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
Add to this most students don’t seem to be completing the assignments citing reasons of connectivity adequacy or device issues and in some cases even the teachers do not seem to be able to focus and follow through on the assignments.
Teachers preparedness for online platforms
One of the key issues that came up was the teacher readiness on Online learning platforms and modes of online teaching which are not a regular feature of the public school system, or for that matter, the school system at large, in India. More than half the teachers (overall, 54%), shared that their knowledge and user-experience of such platforms and modes of teaching were inadequate.
Processes of Online teaching and engagement with students
The engagement with the students was found to be lacking with just about 50% teachers interacting on a daily basis and in at least 80 percent of the instances, only an hour or less per day is spent by the teachers per grade on online classes. Most teachers were not providing any online content material hence no online teaching material was available with the students prior to the class. Most exchanges seem to be happening on WhatsApp and only about 14% using Zoom, MSOffice Team, WebEx, etc.
On a concluding note
Overall, there are severe problems that online learning solutions generate for the public-school children across states. These are in terms of abysmal access of low-income families and children to online learning options, the ineffectiveness of online teaching-learning to provide substantive learning opportunities, and inadequate preparedness of teachers for online teaching. It’s no wonder that parents are both dissatisfied with online learning solutions and eager to have their children back in school with necessary safeguards for their health and well-being.
A possible effective solution to this would be the Blended learning model which allows a balance between online and face to face interaction. Read more in my article that explains the concept of Blended Learning here.