Introduction When every single day of forced confinement at homes is becoming an extremely boring ritual for even the middle-classes, the post-COVID phase is likely to be exciting and in a country like ours, one can reasonably expect that thousands of new entrepreneurs in education will blossom everywhere in India.
It is in this context that some strategies for the development of students and teachers are interesting to be discussed in some detail. Here the focus is on a) School and College students b)The researchers c) Teachers of schools and colleges d) Managements of those who run the educational institutions.
School and College students It is gratifying to note that several thousands of school and college students are taking to online classes and the entire lessons for the next year have started to be imparted. Zoom is just one of the applications. There are several other applications and it is but essential that each student, whether in school or college takes up any short term training course to use all these apps. It will become extremely important to become totally proficient in all these apps, as these are expected to be the new normal, in terms of teaching methodologies.
The second challenge will be to integrate all the online learning with the process of classroom teaching, whenever the latter takes place. This is expected only in late September 2020, with severe restrictions. Those who study in Government schools and with bare minimum or zero exposure to the internet will be badly hit. Yet, it is still possible for the State Government teachers to use whatever resources are available to make some education available to the student, through the internet. In some cases, education is sought to be done through TV channels. This is one intelligent method and should become a national norm, even after the lockdown is partially lifted. It should be noted that if community transmission takes place, the problem of running schools will become even more acute.
Thirdly, parents of even primary school children should use the post-CCOVID period to get their children to learn the basics of computer operations. For example, in some pockets of big cities, it is common to find even the fourth standard students playing with smartphones with remarkable ease. Parents ought to learn from others. As far as college students are concerned, they ought to realize that life skills are vital. Chief among them is the ability to speak and write very good English and presentation skills of the tallest order. Even graduates who are in the second year of college have to gear up to become a lot more competitive and pick up or do only courses that have job orientation and for which there will be unlimited scope in the post-Covid scenario.
Some good courses are the undergraduate courses in Visual Communication, Media Management, Event Management, and the like that are offered by various Universities. New careers will open up everywhere in the media industry. It can be expected that the focus will be on economic reconstruction and the role of the media will be central to this process. There will also be a number of new jobs for lab technicians, X-ray technicians, and any skill that is related to medical care. The general awareness to take to preventive health care will be highly pronounced in the post-Covid period among the middle-classes and this will only expand to even smaller towns. Hence the jobs will continue to happen. Courses in organized retail management, aircraft maintenance management, and capital markets will fetch any fresh graduate good jobs in the respective domains. Gearing up to new challenges is essential.
The researchers The researchers who are already in teaching positions, and those who are now doing their doctorate will need to understand that the scope of socially relevant research, particularly in the socio-economic sphere will be limitless. It is wise to associate with any project of the World Bank, UNICEF, WHO, and such international organizations. And the ILO in particular. This will mean a big opportunity to get access to global research.
For example, in the post-COVID phase, there will be a significant focus on the vulnerable sections and how to make them more prepared for a virus of such magnitude. The weaker sections and the poorer sections who live in the slums will become a big topic for discussion. Any meaningful research that throws sufficient light on what it takes from the Government and the NGOs to make their lives far better will always be welcome. Similarly, the scope of research pertaining to the survival and growth of business organizations, particularly with a focus on business ethics, will be welcome and will be read with interest. In fact, the enlightened teachers of many B schools might have already started such research. The likes of Infosys Technologies that have announced no fresh recruitment, but not much of wage cuts, will be under focus for the right reasons. Research should be qualitative and should reflect societal concerns.
Teachers of schools and colleges These teachers have their task cut out. It is relevant, for example, to make each student aware that such a virus that can re-occur in the future. It will also be their duty to safeguard the health of the children in various ways. For example, if any private arrangement can be made to rope in the services of doctors who could test students, with active Government support and supervision, but with funds from the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) corpus, that would be the most useful contribution to society. Similarly, a few extra hours of teaching to make up for the big losses will also be in order. These small adjustments are compulsory and need to be taken in the right spirit.
The additional stress of teachers to enable the students of the incoming tenth standard and plus two students who would take their public examinations in the year 2021, will be there. However, the reach of the online classes should be widened to make the subjects more interesting and also accessible to every student.
Managements of those who run the educational institutions When the chips are down, creativity sets in. This is the most common experience the world over. The Managements will now learn a bitter lesson. With a severe cash crush, only the colleges that make special efforts to impart the right soft skills to their students to make them employable will survive, otherwise, it will not be possible to run their colleges at all. Thus far, there have been quite a number of attempts to convert the engineering colleges into arts and science colleges.
However, even here, it is wise to learn from the experiences of the branded colleges and even strike MOUs to rope in their resources. For example, if the likes of Loyola College, Chennai, or the Christ University, Bangalore, or the MCC, Chennai can act as mentors to the teachers of the unbranded arts and science colleges, there will be a big revolution in terms of improvements of the standards of teaching. Why is that only VIT and SRM stand out in Tamil Nadu? Why and how is that the Mepco Engineering College, based as it is, in a backward town, Sivakasi, in deep South Tamil Nadu, is a branded college, whereas so many others in cities like Tiruchirapalli are not?
Benchmarking is the name of the game. Managements need to understand that there is no free lunch anymore. Every Management, anywhere in India, needs to do a big soul searching to understand the answers. For example, Galgotias University, a deemed University, was already into online teaching in a big way, even prior to COVID. This experience has been widely documented. Other colleges, including the arts and science colleges, will do well to learn from such successful experiences. Merely waiting for things to happen is a sure recipe for disaster. Do all things possible to make things happen, is the only way ahead.
Conclusion The choice for the students, teachers, researchers, and any Management of any educational institution is clear: change and survive or simply go down under. The choice is crystal clear. Life will never be the same, some eighteen months from now. All stakeholders in the education sector need to recognize this vital factor and braze themselves for change. One has to run to stay where they will be. This is no more a choice. It is imperative.
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The major problem regarding online classes is that most students, at least in my locality, do not have any access to the internet. In fact, many of them do not possess a smartphone, let alone desktop or laptop computers. At present, because of the lockdown, cyber cafes are also closed and otherwise also, it is not feasible for the poor students to access teaching materials from cyber cafes in the long run. Several teachers have tried to address the issue by trying to offer academic help over voice-calls to the individual or smaller groups of students, but the process is time-consuming. Unless their poverty is mitigated, at least to a reasonable level, and until there are significant improvements in network connections, online classes are not going to be effective at least for a major number of Indian students hailing from the small towns and rural areas.
The lockdown restrictions have been relaxed now and plans are to open educational institutions by next month. Surely there has been a wait and watch approach for many schools as they are unable to get the consent of the parents who are hesitating to send the children for normal school fearing an escalation of infections and the school managements are unable to give the assurance on safety. Therefore this academic year would probably be without the normal classes in schools.
COVID 19 taught many lessons to all of us. There are many changes in our lifestyle. Now it is a necessity to know the basics of operating a computer and the internet has become a necessity. As the students are not able to go to the classes, teachers are forced to learn how to teach online. This is an additional skill to the teachers which will be useful to them in post-COVID situations. Similarly, the parents, even in villages, are able to see the importance and constructive benefits of having a smartphone and internet in their houses. They also started participating in online meetings with teachers. That has helped them in updating their skills and understanding about modern gadgets. These skills will be very useful to them even after COVID situation to monitor their children's education status and they can interact with teachers and get updates about their progress without any major problem.