From the age of ‘gurukuls’ to modern day schools, teachers and students have always had a face to face relationship. The word ‘relationship’ here is key because that’s exactly what face to face interaction allows for. Teachers can understand their students, understand their strengths and weaknesses, pick up from non-verbal communication and modify their teaching style to suit every individual.
Almost as important, if not more, is the personal growth that students get in the process of going to the school and studying with their friends. Collaboration, critical thinking, social skills, organisational skills & personality growth are all traits that enable kids to thrive in the society they are meant to live in. It is the experience of travelling to schools & tuitions, the experience of a full day of class with their friends, the experience of exams and sports which is their guide, while being exhilarating at the same time. The classroom education experience has always been the first window to the outside world.
But when classes contain more than 20-30 students, it erodes a fundamental benefit of classroom education – the ability of the teacher to give personal attention to each student. The quality of teaching, being a matter of perception by itself, also varies. That’s why tuitions exist – a promise of quality education and personalised attention. This is especially important in India, where the scale of diversity is greater than in most places on the planet.
But even with all of this, there are fundamental gaps in face to face education. By design, the introverts start with a natural disadvantage. In this era of mass competition, the ones who are slower to grasp face a risk of lagging behind. Some might be better at studying alone while some do better while studying in groups. Our current education system treats everyone in a class with one broad brush and that creates a natural divide.
Then came the wave of online learning. A child of modern technology, online learning has risen in prominence over the last decade. The number of internet users in India and the number of smartphone users in India have both shot up by 2.5 times in the last 4 years alone. During the same time, the number of students enrolled for online learning courses in India have gone up 5 times, from 16 Lakhs to 80 Lakhs (and these are stats from Feb-2020, before the COVID lockdown). Online education platforms allow students the flexibility to complete their education at their own pace, at their own time and convenience. If you don’t understand a concept the first time around, watch the video again. Revise with videos rather than reading books alone, do online assessments in addition to problems at the back of the book – Students now have better options for self-study and the advantage of repetition. Online Education has thus bridged some of the gaps. But technology can facilitate so much more.
Education was moving along at its usual pace till ‘The Virus’ came along and paused life as we knew it. Although there has been a rush to go online, in most cases, especially in India, it was a hurried reaction to be compliant to what seemed most important – continue the classes. E-classes were launched, regular timetables were charted out and there was a semblance of a normal routine sans assembly, prayer, uniforms and the cacophony of sounds before and after classes.
Initially, most parents, teachers and students were critical of the new methodology. Some still are. But as the unfortunately named ‘new normal’ gained acceptance as the only option, the differences were ironed out and many now see the benefits of online learning. But what next? Do we just make do with online classes till the pandemic is controlled and then go back to the old ways.
It is clear that both forms on education have their own merits. Neither is a substitute of the other. But, can we combine both and get the ‘best of both worlds’? Blended Learning is exactly that concept and it has been gaining popularity in the US and Europe for some time now.
For many, especially those who relied on classroom education alone, online education is now analogous to live online classes. They have substituted classroom education with online classes. As the pandemic subsides (how many ever months away that is), students will start going back to classes. Online classes will be redundant at that time. So, if we are looking to ‘get the best of both worlds’, then what does that look like?
The best use of technology is to complement classroom education in ways that makes it more effective, make the experience more engaging, fulfilling, and delightful to the students. That to me, is the next step in the evolution of education.
How can we do this? What has already been tried and tested? Can we think of some innovative ideas? I’m going to put forward some ideas and discuss this in an IEEE sponsored panel discussion during IEMENTech 2020 conference (http://theiementech.org/). I will then post Part-2 of this blog which will reflect the panel discussion and try answer the above questions.