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  • Raghav Sand

E-Learning in India and Bharat

Understanding E-Learning is simple. E-Learning is learning utilizing electronic technologies to access educational curriculum outside of a traditional classroom. In most cases, it refers to a course, program or degree delivered completely online. It is interactive, such that teachers and students can also communicate with each other.

The disparity of educational infrastructure between urban and rural India has been exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Students in cities and towns are attending classes through audio-visual means. Smartphones, tablet and personal computers have been deployed to fill the void left by in-person learning. The physical and psychological fatigue from remote learning is taking its toll on the enthusiasm and grades of students.

Educational boards have been trying to ease student and teacher stress by postponing exams and reducing the syllabus. Students in non-urban set up have their own set of problems. Apart from the total breakdown in learning, some of the students in the hinterland are on the verge of a wasted academic year. The abrupt cessation of classes will leave an indelible mark on the academic life of most students. The repair exercise will have to be meticulously formulated and the disadvantaged pupil need both counselling and coaching.

Teachers in a Tug of War

For those of who you think that teachers are sailing through work from home, a polite rebuttal: they are working ever so more and in the initial days of the lockdown they had the biggest technological shocks of their lives. Managing students on Zoom calls, delivering lectures and checking assignments has made them a traffic cop and an orchestra conductor at the same time.

Scanning sheets and sending it in the appropriate WhatsApp group has not been easy. Previously, a teacher’s school engagements got over with school timings, but now the line between personal and professional life has been erased. Some are getting paid reduced salary and few others have been asked to take involuntary furloughs. Lack of socializing has been tough for teachers. Disgraceful incidents of students bullying and harassing teachers on video calls are deplorable.

Open for All

Examination in the times of pandemic has been turned upside down. In the early days of lockdown, some of the students were promoted even without an assessment. History may repeat itself when internally conducted exams for 2020-21 academic session may eventually be cancelled. It has been reported that students are appearing for internal mid-term exams with the aid of unfair means.

Copying from notes and textbook, and discussing answers on WhatsApp groups are diluting the utility of tests. It is virtually impossible to keep a tab on student activity in the course of remote learning. Individual and group ethics should adhere basic moral standards. In the words of acclaimed writer C. S. Lewis, best known for his fantasy literature ‘Chronicles of Narnia’, “Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching”.

Urban-Rural Disparity Came to the Fore

Inequitable distribution of wealth exposed the shortcomings of rural educational infrastructure in comparison to the urban set up. Even in the big cities the haves and have-nots experienced contrasting remote learning realities. Desktop and laptop personal computers are not common items in Indian household.

As per a recent survey, 45.6 percent of Indian household have only one smartphone. This device is usually in possession of the working member, who himself / herself has to constantly use the device for professional purposes. 16.1 per cent homes have two or more smartphones of out of which 4.3 per cent own three or more phones. Even in homes with two or more phones, there have been instances where the number of children have outnumbered the available devices. Apportionment of devices and allocation of time has not been easy.

All this strain on resources has adversely impacted the graph of education. High speed internet has not yet found a place in most urban homes and the 2G internet in countryside puts students on uneven footing. Education has lifted millions out of extreme poverty in the last three decades and some of the negative impacts of the shock to the education system has the potential to turn back the clock. According to UNESCO, India has more than 30 crore (300 million) students enrolled in schools. The largest number of students are enrolled at the primary level.

Students develop basic language and mathematical skills during these years at the primary level and more often than not the foundation for upcoming levels is laid during this fragile and sensitive age. Parents, elder siblings, grandparents, and private tutors may all be taking turns to teach the basics, but e-learning is no match for classroom teaching; at best, it is a stop gap arrangement. Careful monitoring and mentoring of students enrolled at various levels of education is imperative.

Fund Flow in Edtech

“Increased levels of digitization and an uptick in the adoption of technology across consumer and business segments have created previously unexplored areas or have provided a catalyst to the growth of existing solutions. Some of the larger capital rounds in late-stage have been in sectors which were growing well pre-covid but have seen a massive uplift in their addressable markets in the current situation,” said Karan Mohla, partner and head, consumer technology, Chiratae Ventures.

Bengaluru-based Byju’s, with a current valuation of $11.1 billion, has raised over $1 billion since January, reflecting the surge in investor interest in edtech startups as remote learning replaced classrooms. Unacademy raised $150 million, led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2i, trebling its valuation to $1.45 billion. Currently, Unacademy is the second most valued edtech startup after Byju’s.

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