Covid-19 has put many governments and institutions to test. The decision to conduct online classes and examinations was one such test which seems to have ended up in mixed results. The case of the 14-year-old Class 9 girl student in Kerala who ended her life for lack of a mobile phone or television at home to attend to the online classes could be an extreme and exceptional one. But it brings out the limitations of a system under trial. There are millions of impoverished families wherein children have no access to smartphones, laptops or television sets which are sine qua non for attending online classes. If the decision-makers had taken into consideration Gandhiji’s dictum “to keep the last man in the queue in mind while taking decisions”, they would have thought twice before embarking on online classes without making adequate arrangements for the same. An education system that teaches ‘right to equality’ cannot go against its own pedagogy and principles by introducing a system which is unequal in many respects.
It is true that new challenges provide new opportunities. Covid 19 is one such unforeseen challenge in the education sector. But the remedy does not do justice to all. How could a class be limited to certain sections of privileged students at the exclusion of those who have no access to the needed technology. The sight of a student climbing to the rooftop of her house to have access to internet speaks volumes about the lopsided distribution of technology across the country. The recent decision of the Karnataka government to stop virtual classes for students from KG to Class 7 is a delayed recognition of the impracticability of the online education. It has come to light that many parents have to sit with students of lower classes to make the online classes workable. But it is often not feasible with most of the working parents. In several cases, teachers too have been stressed out due to unfavourable reactions from students, parents and general public.
However, it would be unwise to discard the concept of online classes lock, stock and barrel. At a time when education has been thrown off the track, it can be a viable alternative specially for students of higher learning. Covid 19 has in fact given an opportunity to test the waters. To make the new teaching method successful, the government has to broadly focus on a few factors. First, the technology should have a pan-India reach so that no section of students is left out of it. Second, some ways have to be worked out to make the technology available to all students in the targeted group. Third, instead of making online education universal, it should be limited to students of higher classes and higher learning. Fourth, online exams should be avoided as it involves many elements of inequality. Fifth, an impression should not be created that online classes are a tool to debar the poor and the marginalized from the educational system. Sixth, experts of various fields should be involved in finetuning this new method of imparting education.
Students are the main stakeholders in education. Hence, any method that takes education to some sections of students will spoil the spirit of learning. Universal, not partisan, education should be the focus. Teaching online cannot replace face-to-face interactive mode. It can supplement the offline mode and add value to the process of education. It would be wrong to miss the woods for the trees.
(Published on 15th June 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 25)