Pandemic and its effect on education
The COVID-19 pandemic has created many disruptions in our day to day lives, including closure of schools. It has had a huge impact on over 240 million children of India who are enrolled in schools. Extension of school closures have caused loss of learning.
To deal with the consequences of the pandemic, schools have re-modelled and restructured the way teaching and learning that was happening so far, they have also brought about a suitable and convenient method of delivering quality education through a healthy mix of schooling at home and schooling at school.
It is true that digital or online education cannot replace the traditional classroom learning but it has shown some advantages. It allows flexible and personalized learning adhering to the pace of the learner and one can simultaneously augment and expand content through digital methods.
The rapid increase in internet penetration along with numerous government initiatives such as the Digital India campaign has helped in creation of a conducive environment for moving towards digital education. This shall be complemented by the recent launch of PM e-Vidya by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), a national campaign unifying all initiatives related to digital, online, and on-air education.
It includes, DIKSHA (one nation – one digital platform), TV (one class-one channel), SWAYAM (online MOOCS on various topics), IITPAL (platform vital for exam preparation), AIR (via community radio and CBSE Shiksha Vani podcasts) along with study materials for differently abled students developed by NIOS. The areas of e-learning is planned to be expanded and developed further in a systematic manner by the MHRD.
There have been guidelines which have been introduced from the perspective of learners, focusing on online and digital education for students availing education present at home due to lockdown. These guidelines provide a roadmap and pointers for online education, focusing on enhancing the quality of education.
The guidelines will be relevant, important, and useful for a diverse set of stakeholders that include school heads, teachers, parents, teacher educators and students.
Announcement of guidelines
The Human Resource and Development Ministry has announced guidelines for conducting classes digitally, operationalised by schools whilst the COVID pandemic. The Union Minister- Mr. Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank virtually released the PRAGYATA guidelines on 15th July, 2020 in accordance with digital education in New Delhi.
He said, PRAGYATA guidelines have been developed from the perspective and ease of learners, focusing on online, digital education for students who are presently at home due to the pandemic. The guidelines talk about the use of an alternative academic calendar of NCERT, for both: learners having access to digital devices and learners having limited or zero access.
The PRAGYATA guidelines have been prepared by the Ministry of HRD to ensure the safety and academic welfare of the students. Shri Dhotre says that online education has filled several gaps during the pandemic, but utmost care has to be taken while using digital technologies for education. He hoped that these guidelines will help students, teachers, parents, heads, and other stakeholders in learning online safety practices.
Shri Dhotre also lauded the efforts of the Ministry to bring out PRAGYATA guidelines which will ensure a safe and secure digital learning environment. The Main focus of these guidelines would be on balanced online and offline activities. For parents, the guidelines will help them understand better, the need for physical, mental health and well-being along with the cyber safety measures for children at home.
Recommendations as per the guidelines
The guidelines have recommended a cap on the screen time for students. The HRD Ministry has suggested that the online classes for pre-primary students should not be for more than 30 minutes a day. For Classes 1st to 8th, there should not be more than two online sessions of up to 45 minutes each in a day.
The guidelines have been issued keeping in mind the overall development and well-being of the students with an aim to cut down undue screen time and create a stress free environment. For the senior students that includes class 9th to 12th, the Ministry has limited the online classes to a maximum of four sessions of upto 45 minutes each.
The PRAGYATA guidelines include eight steps of digital learning which include, Plan- Review- Arrange- Guide- Yak (talk)- Assign- Track- Appreciate. These steps have helped the planning and implementation of digital education step by step with examples.
The Guidelines have emphasized the need to collaborate all efforts related to digital, online education, which benefit school going children across the country. The guidelines outlines suggestions for administrators, school heads, teachers, parents and students on the following grounds:
- Need assessment
- Concerns while planning online and digital education which include duration, screen time, inclusiveness, balanced online and offline activities etc level wise
- Modalities of intervention including resource curation and level wise delivery
- Physical, mental health and wellbeing during digital education
- Cyber safety and ethical practices including precautions and measures for maintaining cyber safety and security.
- Collaboration and convergence with various initiatives.
Purpose and role of the guidelines
For school heads and teachers: These guidelines lay down the need assessment, planning, and steps for implementation of digital education while ensuring cyber safety and privacy measures.
It also highlights the support which is to be provided to students with special needs. Main emphasis is on balanced online and offline activities keeping the screen time as a necessary parameter in accordance with the level, age, and capacity of students.
For parents: the guidelines help to understand the need for physical, mental health and wellbeing along with the cyber safety measures for children at home.
Guidelines for physical health and mental wellness is emphasized across the guidelines for all stakeholders measures so that children do not get overly stretched or stressed or get affected in a negative manner (postural defects, ophthalmic issues, and other physical problems) owing to prolonged use of digital devices. It also provides vital Do’s and Don’ts regarding ergonomics and cyber safety.
In a country like India characterized by multifarious diversity, switching over to digital modes of teaching and learning has been difficult to adapt at the start. There is a need for various States/ UTs level organizations and National level organizations to come together for a change that will sustain post-COVID-19 also.
- Digital Access:
More than 25 crore students across the country have been out of their schools since mid-March 2020 (owing to Covid-19 pandemic). The guidelines acknowledge that these students live in households which fall into the following different categories:
- Those who have computers or smartphones which have 4G internet access.
- Those with smartphones but limited or no internet access.
- Those with television with cable or DTH (Direct-to-home)
- Those having a radio set or a basic mobile phone with FM radio.
- And those who do not have communication devices at all.
- It emphasised that the digital classrooms will not try to recreate Face-to-Face (F2F) classrooms over the internet.
- Need for Survey:
It advises schools to first conduct a survey about the digital infrastructure available with teachers as well as students and the levels of parental involvement before making decisions about the mode of teaching.
Therefore, schools must also decide to reach students who do not have any access to any digital infrastructure at home.
For kindergarten kids, nursery and pre-school, a duration of total 30 minutes of screen time per day for interacting with parents has been recommended.
Schools can hold live online classes for a maximum of 1.5 hours per day for Classes 1-8, and 3 hours per day for Classes 9-12.
- Synchronous and Real-time Communication:
This is real-time teaching and learning which can happen collaboratively at the same time with a group of online learners or individuals, and teachers allowing instant feedback sessions which could include online teaching through video conference, audio conference, using satellite or telecommunication facilities.
Asynchronous Learning: Apart from live classes, it has offered a large number of recommendations for asynchronous learning with tools allowing students to download lessons or listen to radio and TV programmes, along with communication through Whatsapp and SMS, study on their own and undertake creative assignments.
- Health Issues:
Children who are exposed to digital technologies or gadgets for a longer time are prone to severe health issues including vision and back problems, sitting with digital gadgets for longer hours or their excess use can be avoided by designing age appropriate schedules.
- Cyber Safety:
It also recommends ethical practices along with precautions and measures for maintaining cyber safety.
It talks about convergence with the government initiatives on digital education example: SWAYAM Prabha, SWAYAM, DIKSHA and Radio Vahini, Shiksha Vaani.
The loophole of these guidelines is that it does not cover students from degree college (post XII standard). Thus, there have been no suggestions and limitations regarding screen time and mode of learning for the students at university. Pragyata guidelines are being followed religiously by schools however some junior colleges do not abide by it due to several reasons concerning portion and syllabus of the students.
As a Law student, my college has implemented these guidelines with a limited screen time keeping in mind the stressful student life in this pandemic. The college Staff is also empathetic towards technical problems and inconveniences that arise during e-learning including online exams.
Universities try their best to understand the concern of students and do consider suggestions and feedback regarding the same including reschedule of examinations. Teachers have been working hard to provide the best education for their students. The load of final exams have been distributed precisely into assignments, tests and presentations held online.
In a country like India which is full of diversity and constraints in terms of availability of resources (ICT infrastructure, electricity, budget, skilled manpower), switching over to digital modes of education is full of challenges. Local, decentralized planning and implementation is the need of the hour for which various States and UTs level organization such as SCERTs, School Boards, DIETs, BIETs, CTEs, IASEs and National level organizations like NCERT, CBSE, NIOS, KVS, NVS who need to join hands for a long lasting change which will continuously enhance and upgrade the quality and level of education and skill development of the large student population and we can leverage the demographic dividend in the upcoming years.