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From Desks to Desktops: The Virus’s Undoing of Education

All in all it’s just another misshapen brick in the tattered wall.

The biography of education in India foretells a constant state of flux in the medium of teaching. From the slate-chalk, the blackboard-chalk, the whiteboard-marker, and the smartboard-stylus, the covid-19 pandemic has heralded a transition to virtual platforms. To assume that the tap-dance of education in virtual classrooms is ubiquitous would be false, and vehemently so. As is the condition during even the best of times, those in the last mile still sit in the Waiting Room. Beyond the 23.8 percent of India households with working internet connections (National Sample Survey, 2017-18), a panoply of the population has been rendered offline.

The psychological transition of the students to the virtual world has rollercoastered, varying due to their capabilities and riches. The haphazard Zoom-ification of classroom teaching and lack of digital upskillment of teachers has proven to be a recipe for disaster. Indian curricula is also condemned to be archaic and rigid, and the pandemic motivated slapdash changes to it have left out vital topics in the name of “reducing the burden on students and teachers alike”. The sanctified teacher-student symbiotic relationship has hence turned into a moral hazard laden minefield.

Toddlers who have begun to take their first steps -into the schooling system, that is- have had their gateway to develop necessary cognitive abilities and imbibe moral values shuttered. They risk postponing their education by a year or paying mountainous fees for online classes. On the other side of the education ladder, the Class of 2020 graduates has witnessed unsatisfactory quality of online classes; a motley of contradictions in the name of government and judicial directions for terminal examinations; the rescinding of final-year placement offers; and concurrent mental trauma. The postponement and makeshift marking schemes of Board Examinations and competitive exams have left the destinies of a large number of students in the pipeline. Those venturing to study beyond India’s borders have seen cascading dreams (and, well, money) due to the closing of international travel and inept handling of the virus in some nations. Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs), free government online literature repositories, subsidized data and desktops, and other state funded innovations have tried to patch the holes in the sinking boat of education, and have offered some respite.

While the learning continuity has been handled well by various higher education institutions, students in colleges are missing out on the bubbling intellectual campus life, the professor-student nexus vital for enterprising research, extracurricular freedoms and practical education. And the pathshalas of India are not solely mechanised junctions of pedagogical advancement. Schools in India are superstructures of extended governance, sites of vital social intercourse and economic upskillment. With the covid-19 coup de grâce, governmental paternal libertarianism with the schooling system such as mid-day meals through the breadth of the nation, vital civic education, monthly provision of sanitary pads for girls and sex education has dwindled; the latter two are especially pertinent for underprivileged households where incidents of sexual transgression happen aplenty, and are now stolen from these values. The implementation of the Right to Education Scheme during this time too remains in tatters, disenfranchising those who already live on alms. Vocational education, a subsector which has its curriculum modeled on learning-by-doing have been replaced by inadequate YouTube videos. As is quite evident, Gross Enrollment Rates, Eligibility Enrollment Ratios and other yardsticks to measure educational outcomes have taken a beating- more so in the marginalised sections of the society.

Some sections of the society are hurt more unequally than others: students with disabilities do not have access to the in-person interaction required; children with additional household responsibilities of ailing family members and bread-earning cannot possibly be expected to juggle their priorities; the majority bereft of tech infrastructure are left helpless; and female students in conservative areas may drop-out entirely.

Some of the systemic implosions in teaching are novel to the coronavirus, while others are totems of pre-existing comorbidities in the system. There is nothing new that the biographers of Indian education haven't been to privy to.

It takes a village to raise a child, they say.

The village itself needs raised basic standards, they don’t say.

Featured image credits : Mariam George


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