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The Union government on Tuesday formally launched the virtual school concept that will allow millions of eligible students outside the school system to complete their studies without physically attending a brick-and-mortar school.

This will be implemented through the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) but will be entirely digital in nature, said education minister Dharmendra Pradhan.

The availability of digital schooling will benefit those who are out of the existing system, the minister said.

The move underscores the government’s push towards increasing adoption of technology in the education sector.

“This school is a new model of learning and is an example how leveraging technology and innovation can facilitate greater inclusion in education," Pradhan said. “The school is the first-of-its-kind initiative in India, which will provide advanced digital learning platforms via virtual live classrooms and labs, etc."

School education secretary Anita Karwal said students’ assessments and examinations will also happen via remote proctoring under this initiative. She said that students in Classes 9 to 12 will have options to join a virtual school. In such schools, classes will be conducted virtually but will be activity based, textbook based and experiential in nature, she said, adding that the results will also be declared digitally.

According to NIOS, the virtual school is like an online platform “with a mission to enable access to affordable, world-class education to enhance learning outcomes".

Students will “attend live interactive classes, watch recorded sessions, submit tutor marked assignments (TMAs), assessments and exams". 

The virtual or digital school will also offer certifications to enhance student employability and may be offered access to job boards and job portals for career-related issues. 

Pradhan also unveiled an alternative academic calendar developed by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) to “facilitate teachers and parents to assess the progress in the learning of children. This initiative contains week-wise plan of “challenging activities, with reference to learning outcomes, themes and chapters taken from syllabus or textbook".

He said the National Education Policy has suggested the adoption of digital and physical modes of education and his ministry is trying to build the required infrastructure and enabling environment to offer education in all three modes—physical, digital and hybrid.

The pandemic has led to a surge in the adoption of technology in delivering education. To be sure, just 24% of Indian households have internet connections to access e-education, and there is a large rural-urban and gender divide that is likely to widen the learning gap across high, middle and low-income families, as per a Unicef report released in August 2020.

The education ministry also unveiled an initiative to boost early childhood learning from preschool to Class 5 to improve literacy and numeracy skills among early graders.

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