Beyond reopening schools: How education can emerge stronger than before Covid-19

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Adversity carries with it a potential for opportunity, innovation, and learning. The coronavirus pandemic, which has caused social and economic disruption worldwide, is likewise an opportunity for the education sector to emerge stronger.

A lot depends upon the attitude and approach the educators to adopt to tide over this crisis that prompted the closure of schools and colleges in over 100 countries in 2020. According to UNICEF, the pandemic had affected over 1.6 billion students worldwide by July last year, but this number fell almost halfway to 825 million by January 2021, an indication that the education sector was quickly adapting and transitioning from classrooms to online modes of teaching and learning.

Global bodies, too, have taken the lead in setting the right course. The International Council for Open and Distance Education was prompt in creating an effective portal to facilitate E-learning for teachers and students who were unable to attend schools. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has similarly come up with a commendable response to promote distance learning and mitigate the disruption caused to the education sector for millions of students.

Now, with the coming of vaccines, the prospect of schools and colleges reopening is brighter than it has been for over a year, but the education sector will have to look beyond the myopia of return to normalcy. It will have to introduce several reforms to emerge stronger in the post-Covid era.

Adaptability and Resilience with Blended Learning

More than just buzzwords, these two virtues have been instrumental in minimising the interruption in the academic processes caused by the pandemic and they will be the hallmarks of education in the future. Blended learning and open education applications should become an indispensable part of academic institutes to make them more adaptable and resilient. Technology should be used judiciously, but not indiscriminately.

Bridging the digital divide

Unequal access to Information and Communications Technology (ICT) has led to a digital learning gap between the students who possess the economic and intellectual means to use digital technology and those who don’t. The pandemic has highlighted this lacuna in the education system. According to a study conducted by NCERT, about 27 per cent of the 18,188 surveyed students did not have access to laptops or smartphones. All stakeholders from the government to schools must play an active role in bridging this divide.

Teacher training

21st-century education is perpetually evolving and incorporating innovative methods of teaching, learning, curriculum designing and student assessment. To keep pace with these rapid advances, the teaching community has to be adequately trained and skilled.

Yet, studies conducted in pre-Covid times reveal that schools in many states were spending less than 1% of their budget on teacher training. This must change. Teacher training academies should play a pivotal role in creating teaching competencies that meet the demands and expectations of modern education.

Promoting school franchise model

School franchise models have diversified the base of education available to millions of students by taking it to remote places where aspiring schools and educators lack the wherewithal to educate the less privileged. Reputed educational institutes should share their experience and expertise with aspiring franchisees to promote this model of growth and expansion.

Robust platform for students with learning difficulties

Even as we surge ahead towards a sustainable future, the education sector must not ignore the students with special needs, who were most severely affected by the pandemic because of their greater reliance on personalized learning. We need to create robust platforms for students with different learning abilities to ensure that no one is left behind in intellectual growth.

While all these interventions are extremely relevant, every educational institution shall have to strengthen its safety-related infrastructure. Any decision to reopen the institution must be preceded by adequate precaution to ensure that the health issues of teachers and students are not compromised.

Source: India Today

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