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Online Education: All That Glitters is Not Gold

This online system of education is highly discriminatory and is heavily skewed in favour of rich and middle class urban households.

Corona has led to unprecedented lock down and all the schools & colleges of the country are closed for the past more than 3 months. Adversity creates opportunities; disruption leads to innovation and changes. Online education is not something out of box, it was very much there as an educational vision in this increasing age of ICT and digitization and sooner or later, India would have adopted it. But there is no denying the fact that Covid has hastened the process towards online education.

Online classes through Google Meet sitting in the comforts of your home, study content on your WhatsApp, e books and e libraries, audio visual presentations of teachers and videos and several education based apps are redefining the sphere of education as no one could have imagined before. Online education has simply created a buzz as the opinion makers are preoccupied with debating the various advantages of this system as to how it has made education highly personalized & individualized, how it has made education flexible by making it available at any time and from any place and how it has reduced costs by removing the indispensability of physical brick & mortar classrooms.

Despite all hue and cry and the inevitability of digital education as the medium of mass education in future owing to rapid strides in technology and the transformation of our society into a digital one, it’s time to make a rational assessment on the long-term impact of online education before jumping to rapid conclusions about its desirability.

The first pertinent issue relates to access & acceptability. Even by the most optimistic of estimates, the total number of internet users is not more than 40 percent of the population today. So is the case with smart phones which also hovers around the 40 percent mark. And don’t forget that in a developing nation like India, most of the people lack desktops & laptops and depend mostly on mobile phones to access internet. Attending classes and interactive video sessions through mobile phones is always going to be an arduous task. So apart from access to Internet, possession of devices & gadgets like laptops, computers and ear plugging is also a problem.

This online system of education is highly discriminatory and is heavily skewed in favour of rich and middle class urban households. Even in the urban households, maximum people reside in one room or two room flats and if there are two or more than two school going children, arranging online class sessions from home can be quite disruptive for many families. Internet penetration and smart phone usage is no doubt increasing in villages but still far below the figures in urban India in percentage terms. For the marginalized classes of the population, apart from access to Internet, the question of affordability of gadgets will always arise. It will take years before online education truly assumes a mass inclusive character. A urban – rural chasm will always be there.

A solution needs to be urgently found lest a large part of the population will be cut off from education. Other methods of imparting education like through TV channels and creation of numerous internet education access points in rural India need to be given a serious thought. Democratic India simply can’t allow the perpetuation of education inequality and geographical education deficit. It takes time for people to adapt to technology and innovation. Online education may take time to become acceptable and moreover computer literacy needs to be boosted in the country as part of the Digital India mission.

From the perspective of the students, the joy of student life is matchless. Just imagine taking out students from the classrooms, from the playgrounds and from the web of social interactions & interpersonal relationships and making them spend hours in front of screens. What impact will it have on young minds? Coming generations will lose the art of communication and social interactions. Online education promotes social exclusion and retards communication development. Prolonged on-screen exposure may lead to complicated health, eye and psychological problems in children. From a social animal, a human being will change to a digital animal. The holistic and wholesome development of a child can’t take place without fun, recreation, playgrounds, classrooms and friends.

There is little or virtually no face to face interaction, the emotional connect that brings a rapport between the teacher and the student is missing. Even when there happens to be an interaction in live classes/video chats, information flow is generally unidirectional. In the words of Mark Edmondson, “Online education creates monologues and not real dialogues.” During live classrooms, students can easily switch off their videos and be present in the class anonymously; he can see the teacher and hear him while the teacher can’t see him in the frame apart from a dark box. The control & monitoring power of the teacher is weakened in the process.

Normally the art of teaching has a close connection with psychology & reading the minds of students. A good teacher knows how to bring the focus of students back to his topic and how to charge them up during the course of his lectures. He reads the faces of students; he reads the body language of students and then, plans his teaching strategy accordingly. In online classes, he will simply talk to the boxes on the screen which will bear faces, disconnected with each other individually as all students will attend classes from places of their choice or homes, while sitting alone in his room in front of his screen. The urge to teach, the motivation to impart knowledge and the flow of energy will simply vanish. Students also realize that attending classes is just a formality and they can easily get away with their follies.

I think online education has increased the burden of the students compelling them to minimize their leisure time. When my 12 year old son was going to school, he always got time to play but now, he is facing time management issues. He has to attend online classes, listen to videos of different subjects including yoga and music classes, copy down notes from WhatsApp, go through PDF files, do assignments and lastly but not the least, self study has to be done. This system is mentally and physically too taxing for the students compared to our traditional system.

The character of students is built on discipline but this online system has given too much autonomy, freedom and individual space to students. Online education can only benefit those students who are sincere, disciplined and self regulated. It has been seen that this system of education has engendered procrastination and too much of casualness in the attitude of students. Too much of online time spending may expose the students to pornography, pernicious influence of social media and addictive video games without parents being even aware of those.

I don’t see a hitch in E-learning when it comes to humanities & social sciences. But just pause and think whether it’s feasible to teach science subjects involving research & lab work online. Simply watching instructors perform on-screen is no substitute for real time industrial training for engineering graduates or doctors performing surgical operations.

Students can take advantage of their personal anonymous space and cheat in their assessment tests. Without proper Identity verification anyone can take the test in place of anyone. However, Identity verification issues have mostly been sorted out in various online examinations.

Expansion in E-learning may witness high increase in the number of online platforms & institutions offering E-degrees and E-certificates. Naturally credibility issues will galore. Before registering in online programmers, students need to clear their doubts over the affiliations & accreditations of the host institutions. Nothing will appear real, everything will seem virtual.

All said and done, online education is here to stay and we must learn to accept it despite apprehensions. However, in our hurry to implement online education, we shouldn’t take it too far and must strive to find a proper mix between online and traditional education. E- Learning has to move towards more integration and interaction. Live interactive sessions, interaction between the students and the teachers and the ending of the anonymous presence of the learners are the probable answers. Blended learning, peer to peer activities and online feedback to see how the learner is coping up with online education need to be incorporated in the system. Students often get confounded and lost in the virtual e- learning world where they can’t receive feedback about their works from peers, teachers etc. Lack of guidance leads to lack of direction in studies which eventually degenerates into lack of interest. Proper monitoring and feedback of E-learning mechanism has to accompany any implementation of it.

Online and traditional education systems are not adversaries of each other but rather, complementary to each other. It will take time for online education to sink into the nation.


The views and opinions expressed by the writer are personal and do not necessarily reflect the official position of VOM.

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The views and opinions expressed by the writer are personal and do not necessarily reflect the official position of VOM.
This post was created with our nice and easy submission form. Create your post!

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