Changing phase of education – The responsibility to lead

Changing phase of education – The responsibility to lead

Since March 2020, the COVID-19 surfaced in India, we have been going through a gloomy and tense time. As we see the news, it is all about the severity of the disease, its spread, and data at different states and cities on infliction, hospitalization, and distress. Then, we saw our Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, Shri. Narendra D Modi announcing lockdown at the end of March 2020. There were protocols like washing hands, wearing facial masks, and social distancing that we all heard for the first time. Incidentally, we learned about a Bird Flu from 1916 to 1918 and started worrying whether we would miss a few years of education, peace, and joy. Summer 2020 went worrying about the pandemic and praying for its end.

The schools and colleges went on teaching us through online mode. We were coping with the same but looking forward to better times. Unlocking started with the opening of socio-economic activities gave us some confidence, yet it looked away from the school opening. We started getting the good news that the USA, Europe including Russia successfully launched the vaccines for adults. In India, vaccines were available for healthcare workers, essential service providers from February 2021, and later from March, to elders. We thought that the pandemic would come to an end if more than seventy percent of the population is vaccinated. This would have led to herd immunity. The most unfortunate happening is– the second wave of the pandemic! Some experts were warning about the same. It hit us hard in India at Maharashtra and Delhi. Later, it spread across Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and other states. Also, we are facing some new diseases like black fungus and yellow fungus surfacing in several states. Since it occurred suddenly, there was a severe impact on the medical fraternity.

Now, the vaccines for children especially for 12 and above, would be approved. It is said that we are not fully ready to implement vaccination programmes even for our students who would go to colleges. I understand that some of the colleges are taking initiative by advising the students to complete both doses and then come to campus. We hear a lot about vaccination and some glitches in the availability of medicines and vaccines. We must study well and see how we could imbibe our learning to manage such unfortunate developments that may come up in society.

We have lost about fifteen months without any interaction at the school and colleges. There is certainly a loss of peer-level learning. Moreover, there are students who excel in extra-curricular like sports and games, co-curricular like debates and discussions in forums, and those in arts and culture like dance, music, and so on. Such students have lost significantly on pursuing their passion.

Students transitioning from school to colleges, and from graduation to post-graduate programmes during the last academic year and the current one are facing a humongous challenge. Firstly, they have had the uncertainty of examination being conducted. This affected a lot on the different quartiles. While toppers had the challenge of not being able to write and establish their supremacy, the average students were unsure of what would be the right opportunity and were spending time oscillating between anxiety and readiness to compete.

Secondly, the higher-level admission challenge is again linked to marks scored in the passing grade level, especially for graduation. This becomes more challenging at engineering and professional colleges, apart from high-demand courses like commerce and visual communication. School teachers and parents may have to do a lot of handholding to children. We must constantly remind them that such misfortunes happen to everyone at different stages of life in multiple ways; even if their situation is critical, it is not the end of all. The focus must be to motivate these students to pursue a greater goal during these unusual times.

Teachers are also having difficult times but they must be more involved and committed during this transition, which could be short-lived. I recollect seeing a piece of news on a TV channel, where a woman in a remote village is asking a teacher why she should be comfortable in paying the fees during this pandemic when she is not sure if her son had learned anything at all in the last one year. She stated that the school system was her only hope to mold and long for a change in their future. What was more disturbing in that news clipping was the teacher being helpless and mentioned that she had to go with the government guidelines and cope with the limitation of the resources.

This is not just in school. Imagine engineering students missing lab and peer learning at the college. Management students having fewer chances of team-based solutions and group interaction. Probably, in the first few months, the teaching community and the education system were going through a learning mechanism. The needy must be made to use the resources like "Kalvi (Education) TV channel and open-source content more effectively. While the rich could afford many online platforms, the lack of access should not deprive the poor both in pecuniary and skillsets to suffer for access to content and delivery mechanism. I am reminded of an excellent advertisement released by the "Idea" network on the concept 'What an Idea SirJi!", where the company facilitated universal learning including in remote locations because of access to the network. Should this not be a reality? Look at the plight of children who are at centres of boarding and lodging due to poor economic status. They have missed school and been on a campus interacting among themselves. Educators must see how well we make an impact on the deprived. The only way is to provide children from various backgrounds a better counselling, improved access, and easy-to-understand content for learning. Subjects especially English, Mathematics, and Science that required classroom learning have to be given in capsules. It is available already, but a more pragmatic approach in implementation is what we need. The government must create a temp workforce of teachers who could supplement at least for the next few years to these children.

I don’t want to sound pessimistic. Let us develop our strength. This is the time our humility and piety must improve. We should spread positivity and care to whomsoever that we could.

Stay safe; Stay blessed!

About the Author

This article is written by N Chandrasekaran, Professor, Operations Management Area, IFMR Graduate School of Management, KREA University. He can be reached at