Last week when finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced several measures to ensure that students across age groups can continue to learn through various online initiatives, what she may not have taken into account is the availability of online content.
According to ed-tech providers, institutions are struggling to put content online. Also, there isn't enough time to train faculty to switch to an online method of pedagogy and disciplined learning that can be efficiently tracked for feedback even as the infrastructure has been in process for some time.
Sitharaman on Sunday said that 'PM eVIDYA' programme for multi-mode access to digital education will be launched immediately and that 100 universities will be permitted to start online courses by 30 May.
Currently, online classes are being conducted over video conferencing platforms available in the public domain, with teachers trying to replicate classroom-style teaching.
Around 20% of educational institutions, who adopted the online education model even before the pandemic, had an easy transition. While some institutions had just the infrastructure, which wasn’t being optimally utilized, many have not even initiated the process digitization.
"We held workshops to empower them (institutions) and they could manage. We have also suggested sharing of resources. So, even if a college does not have content online, it can use that of an existing institution and don't have to re-invent it," said Dr Anil Sahasrabudhe, chairman, AICTE (All India Council for Technical Education).
For students who have not returned to the university, college campuses and continue to stay in their village, hometown, accessing online content could be difficult.
"We may be delivering the online content but to receive it, there is a wherewithal required. And the bigger challenge is the internet speed, the penetration of internet, etc. So, we have appealed to around 500 institutions to provide access to students even if they are not from their college," Sahasrabudhe added.
Another challenge that institutions face in teaching online is ensuring that disciplined learning and continuous attention is achieved, which is possible either with great content or mechanism to track the students’ attention. Both of these might be difficult to achieve in a short span of time.
“The pedagogy approach is also different as online content would require some way for faculty to get some cues about what the student is absorbing," said Mayank Kumar, co-founder and MD, upGrad. He added that creating content for hundreds of universities is more complex than traditional classroom teaching because teaching on camera requires a different approach which means that the content might not be the same quality as what is delivered in person.
“These have their drawbacks in terms that teachers have not received adequate training on lesson delivery through such platforms which were introduced suddenly, online classes are being conducted largely by institutes located in urban areas and those privately managed and only those students having access to digital devices and broadband/ wifi connectivity at home can join these classes," said Anindya Mallick, partner, Deloitte India.
Industry experts suggest a larger model where technology providers can work out the institutions of government bodies where economically disadvantaged students and institutes can avail devices on lease for e-learning.