The year 2020 saw some unexpected numbers across headlines, out of which a notable one is 1.3 billion. That’s the number of learners who were affected by the coronavirus pandemic. While the impact of the pandemic on education was felt across the globe, in a country like India where almost 50 percent of the population is under the age of 25, the closure of educational institutions has had a substantial effect. Over 275 million K-12 students alone were affected by pandemic-related school closures at the height of the Covid-19 lockdown early this year.
However, I have always believed, every crisis brings an opportunity with it. Whatever obstacles we have faced so far, humanity has always come out stronger on the other side. While there is still a lot that needs to be done to restore access to quality learning, for many students, classes have resumed thanks to technology emerging as a great enabler.
This period of change in 2020, that starts from school closures leading to online classes, is something that will stay memorable in the history of our education system. I believe this period where online learning came to the very front of education marks the start of education becoming more holistic for students in our country.
The mainstream welcomes online learning While the student community has always been keen to explore digital learning tools, given that most of them are digital natives, it was common for us to see a little apprehension from parents. However, we began noticing a noteworthy shift in this dynamic when the pandemic set in.
With safety protocols for the coronavirus in place by March 2020, families were spending more time indoors together. Parents could now see the benefits of online learning themselves because children were using it to learn from home. Since then, not only have we seen a rise in the number of students learning online, but we have also seen an industry-wide surge in parents’ willingness to try online learning methods for their children. Our own research shows that 75 percent of parents want their children to continue learning online even after schools open. This endorsement of online learning is also reflected from the time that children spend learning online, which increased greatly during the pandemic.
On the other side of the board, this past year has also been a crucial time for the teaching profession. It would be remiss to mention the rapid adoption of online learning without mentioning the incredible work done by teachers in bringing their classes online. With little training or planning, an entire generation of teachers has effectively digitally upskilled themselves.
This introduction to online learning experienced en masse by students, parents and teachers in 2020 will, I believe, mark a significant shift in consumer behaviour in the field of education. For the first time, all the key stakeholders in the learning process have seen and experienced the engagement that online learning offers together.
Long-term impact on education
While online learning has served as a great short-term solution to ensure that learning doesn’t stop, I believe, it is also a key factor in the long-term success of reaping our country’s demographic dividend. To narrow it down, there are two major problems that online learning can address with respect to our country's education system—accessibility and effectiveness. The foundational pillars to help achieve this are the internet and technology. While these pillars don’t produce results overnight, they are integral for the long-term good of the country—in this case, that would translate to better learning for every child.
We are already seeing some of the benefits of investing in technology with the spread of the internet. In the recent past, the availability of cheap data has greatly fueled internet penetration in the country. India currently has close to 600 million internet users—with 227 million active internet users in rural India alone. I believe this increased connectivity can make quality online learning accessible to every corner of our nation. It gives us the opportunity to ensure that no matter where a student lives, they still learn from the best teachers the country has to offer. Furthermore, with the new National Education Policy (NEP), addressing the accessibility of education through online learning, we are taking a welcome step forward in making sure every child in the country receives quality learning opportunities.
Online learning is also a great tool in personalising and visualising learning for students—an essential part of making learning effective. Not only does this pique students’ curiosity to learn more but it also helps teachers impart knowledge much more effectively to their students.
The future of education
As we look back at the rapid rise and impact of online learning, catalysed by the pandemic, I believe we must explore an important question on everyone’s minds about learning post the pandemic too. Will online learning replace traditional school? The simple answer to this is, no, it won’t.
Schools are here to stay but I think teachers and students are realising that some things can be better learnt online. There are subjects that can be taught or learnt better online, hard subjects like mathematics, science, and coding, for example. But it can never replace the skills a student learns at school. Skills like, social skills, teamwork, and other important skills such as empathy can only be learnt when you are in a group. We all fondly remember not just the classroom time but also the corridor time and the playground time.
What will become normal post pandemic is a blended form of learning which combines the best of online and offline. Here, online learning tools will take care of the asynchronous elements for students whereas teachers and socialisation with fellow classmates will ensure students learn synchronously too. Ultimately, the education that a child will receive through this system will ensure their all-round, holistic development—something that is crucial in making a capable workforce and a developing country.
The writer is the founder and CEO of BYJU’s