As around 1 billion children are shut out from their traditional classroom due to pandemic, many are still grappling with the new norms of online learning in the Indian education system. While a chunk of Indian families has indeed witnessed a seamless transition, other students are faced with new hurdles while accessing even basic education.
“The online education segment is set to become a multi-billion dollar opportunity in India. There are many factors driving this growth including the perceived convenience, increased reach and personalization offered by online channels. It is also interesting to note, that high growth in education search queries is now coming in from Tier 2 and 3 cities,” said Nitin Bawankule, Industry Director, Google India.
In India, absence of online resources in classrooms in the pre-COVID-19 days is ubiquitous unlike in the west where even before the onset of the pandemic, classrooms had a fair share of digital resources. Therefore, even though students are somewhat coming in terms of immersive digital solutions for their learning, teachers are reeling under the pressure of becoming digital experts in the Indian education system. To cope with the barrier, countries like Australia have made integration of ICT support (Information and Communication Technology) compulsory in school curriculum.
Educators around the world were however diligent to find a silver lining in nationwide school shutdown. It can eliminate the orthodox ways of teaching, and integrate digital tools into the learning system through incorporation of “multi-linguistic and 21st-century skills, sports and art” as announced by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Government of India has also introduced several initiatives such as the National Repository of Open Resources portal, to propel digital learning. However, the allocation of resources continues to remain sporadic.
In remote regions of India, irregardless of resource allocation, the lack of vernacular content in digital platforms has created a major hurdle in learning. Majority of lectures, videos, animations and documents are in English—quite a disappointment to students who would have been more comfortable accessing them in their native languages. There are 22 official languages in India with 80 million Telegu speaking people, 82 million Marathi speakers 96 million Bengali speakers and 322 million Hindi speaking people worldwide who are deprived of comprehensive educational content in vernacular languages. According to a survey conducted by Lok Foundation and Oxford University in 2011, only 3 percent of rural Indians could speak English as against 41 percent of elite Indians. This discrepancy could widen the learning gap post-COVID-19.
Educators believe that in the coming days, learning disparities on the virtual platform can only be eased by joint cooperation of government, NGOs, EdTech companies, schools and students-teachers cooperation.