Is online education the future of education in India?

In this essay…

Nelson Mandela says – ‘Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world. It has the capability to change the dimensions of an individual personality. It helps in creating a just soul in society. As Plato says – ‘State is an individual writ large.’ The state is nothing but the reflection of an individual character living in the state. Hence, it helps in creating social capital in our society that potentially contributes to the overall development of a nation.

Now a valid question raises here – How can a state shape character of its own people? In ancient Greek, Plato had come up with a scheme of education at different levels. On the basis of the education system, he stratified people living in the society. Thus, education as a means to refine the personality of an individual has been one of the old schemes of things. However, the means to impart education have been changing over the period of time.

Evolution of means of education

The Indian education system started in the form of ashrams (gurukul) in temples and Mathas. Mathas were basically residential schools for disciples. The education system was based on the dialogue between a disciple (Shishya) and a teacher (Guru). This tradition even finds its footprints in the Socratic tradition of ancient Greek – dialectical movement of thoughts between a teacher and students. This system was a most religious and spiritual form of education. Education was free and gurudhakshana was optional.

However, the system of education changed in the medieval period. Theocratic touch in education became an important pillar in institutions as well as in the theme of education. In this period, maktabas and madrassas became part of the education system. However, the means to impart education was more or less the same as in ancient India. In both cases, funds are generated from getting donations from people as well as the king of the day.

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Later, in the modern period, the system of education experienced western feelings. The education based on reason was institutionalized. Consequently, the University of Calcutta, Madras, and Bombay was established. However, there was a debate on Angilicist-orientalists’ approach to impart education in the context of using Rs 1 lakh released under Charter act 1813. Anglicists believed in imparting English education while orientalists believed in indigenous means. Eventually, Anglicist’s ideas prevailed because the main motive of imperial power was a middleman for imperialism.

In the same fashion, the means to impart education travels in post-modern India. It carried some elements of continuity and some sorts of changes. However, the communication revolution in India in the 90s has opened up space through a new and innovative way – Digital education. People saw digital education through the prism of skepticism. But the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed people to think of online education. During the lockdown, it was started on WhatsApp but later various apps were developed to access online education.

Can online education replace traditional education?

It is rightly said that invention is the mother of necessity. Increasing needs for online education made to get together with technology. The COVID-19 pandemic became the triggering point that necessitates its use on an urgent basis. It is because children, along with family, were locked within the four walls during the lockdown. It has opened up new dimensions in the revolution of the education sector.

Especially on the affordability front, it provided educational resources at a reasonable price. For example, during the pandemic, Physics Wallah becomes the 101st unicorn of India in the education sector from scratch. It has offered courses for JEE and NEET at a very reasonable price that was much lesser than conventional coaching institutes. Similarly, on the quality front, it provides content in visuals. A study shows that visual contents carry space in the mind for a longer duration. Thus, it has the potential to create interest in studies.

Along with these, online education establishes equity in serving education. For example, we know that India has limited seats in IITs where everyone can’t study. Still, the government is distributing its online lecture to everyone in higher education through the NPTEL channel. It provides teachings and study materials prepared by the best professors in IITs. Thus, one may not get a degree in the name of IIT but certainly one can easily avail of the quality education imparted by IIT in the same strength.

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Additionally, it is flexible in nature. One can watch lectures at their own convenience. It has its own potential. For example, even if a girl child faces a mensuration cycle, she is forced to either attend the class or miss the class in conventional means. But online education provides an opportunity to get lectures when she feels good. Also, even if one has seen a lecture and facing doubt about a concept taught in classes, one can refer to it as per the needs.

Apart from this, it fills the void of regional imbalances. For example, a student living in the Buxa district of Assam can access free digital libraries and online courses. They need not be forced to come to cities. Hence, online education has the capability to control migration and congestion in cities. Many people come to cities as a pull factor to provide good education to their children. It is also eco-friendly since it is going to reduce the need for paper. However, this is not free from challenges.

Online education doesn’t have smooth passage: Challenges

From the perspective of students’ mental development, it keeps off students from socialization. Peer groups and meeting with students from different social backgrounds teach a lot of things to students. For example, students in the government school have inter dining midday meal. It makes them realize equality (Article 14) in a practical sense. In the case of online education, students would probably miss such opportunities to get together with cross-culture awareness.

Along with this, while getting an online education at home, there is a probability to get disturbed by family conditioning. If parents fight with each other while class time, it may create a sense of embarrassment in students. Thus, it may impact them at the psychological level. Similarly, in the case of the girl child, she may be forced to for dual burden of household work as well as education.

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Students require smartphones or laptops for e-learning which is not afforded to everyone. Some news reported that students committed suicide due to the unavailability of a computer or a mobile phone. The digital divide of haves and have-nots in digitalization is another challenge in the same segment. Weak networks in the rural areas as well as in eastern and northeastern India may disadvantage them.

Even if one is able to have a smartphone or laptop through government support, he/she may not be able to pay increasing internet charges on regular basis. There is another issue related to the internet is that it doesn’t know the language of morality. For example, if a father fails to manage school fees on the last day of the month, he may ask for 1 or 2 days in the conventional mean. But in the digital system, if the fee is not submitted on time, the concerned student is blocked to access their login credentials.

The synthesis between conventional and digital education

Thus, as Buddha suggested for the golden mean, we should find some green areas between traditional education and online education. For example, students can be taught in physical classrooms through digital means. Lectures can also be uploaded into their credentials. Hence, to ensure quality education through affordable and accessible means, both are important for India. It will help us in realizing demographic dividends and build social capital.

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