by Mr. Praneet Mungali – Trustee of Sanskriti Group of Schools
The zeitgeist of our current times has made it incumbent upon all stakeholders connected with school education to embrace new solutions. Hybrid classrooms envisage a format of learning where some of the students of any given class will come to school for in person learning which will be conducted like conventional classes, whilst others in their peer group will attend the same class remotely which will be live streamed to them.
Hybrid classrooms accord guardians and students the freedom of choice. Those students and parents who wish to avail of physical classes can do so, at the same time it allows uninterrupted learning for scenarios where the student is unable to come to school. Till such time as the majority of the adults in India are fully vaccinated, the prudent course of action is to allow the children of unvaccinated parents choose the format of learning which best suits their individual circumstances.
There are however some pedagogical and technological challenges from a teacher’s perspective. It is difficult to simultaneously pay attention to the needs of remote students as well as those attending the class in person. Monitoring learning outcomes for these different cohorts – the virtual and the physical one will place considerably more workload on the teachers. Research conducted in Europe has shown that all of this may lead to stress and fatigue after teaching in this learning setting.
Another challenge is the lack of enabling technological infrastructure in a large number of schools in the country. The absence of high speed internet, insufficient devices etc are well known. If hybrid classrooms are planned as a long-term alternative to in campus learning then this can further exacerbate the inequality which has cropped up in the school education system during Covid times.
It is the consensus view of most experts connected with the field of education that students learn best in a social setting. The quality of instruction in a physical classroom is superior because of the social, emotional and behavioral skills which are honed in this setting. Hybrid classes will clearly be beneficial here if all the students of any given class attend in person classes by rotation on campus. The challenges will occur when there are a percentage of students, parents in every class who choose to only use the online option as a long term alternative. This has the possibility of exacerbating learning gaps within the same class because the students who are at home full time could easily fall behind if teachers don’t put in extra work to engage them.
School administrators in the public and private sector will need to make significant changes to the processes to successfully enable this.
A careful study of the experience of other countries like the US which have adopted the hybrid learning model at a large scale are also informative in helping us do a lesson learnt analysis.
According to Bree Dusseault from the Washington University Centre for public education, “Hybrid learning can be a best of both worlds, or a worst of both worlds reality,’’. Their team of researchers has been conducting research and surveys in schools in the US right from the start of the pandemic.
Dusseault recommends schools actively survey parents and students, and try to structure classes to make the most of students’ time either in person or at home, in whatever hybrid configuration they choose.
Looking at the summary of the scenario for the Indian context in the best-case scenario, schools can keep students and staff safe while providing them with in-person instruction that gives a more holistic learning working on their overall development. Significant efforts need to be spent in teacher training to preclude the possibility of teachers being forced to cut corners on instruction. Parents and teachers also need to work in unison to ensure that students who are learning at home do not get left behind compared with students who choose to spend at least some time in person.
Policymakers and stakeholders will need to work on a multi pronged approach to reduce the learning gaps in the current scenario and hybrid classrooms are one such important solution which may herald a new paradigm shift towards a ‘new normal’ for the near future.