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Can EdTech replace classroom learning in times of COVID-19 pandemic?

Nitish Jain

Following a directive of the central and state governments, all schools and educational institutions have been required to shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic up till April 14. Most of the exams including board exams, medical and engineering exams have either been postponed/rescheduled or cancelled. The only resort students can turn to in order to continue their education and finish the syllabus is online learning. 

A relatively new concept, while students are learning something new and parents too are coping with the new form of technology, not all households have the resources to facilitate  online learning. Although ed-tech companies have seen a sharp rise in student engagement by offering discounts, making live videos and e-learning contents free, and many user engagement initiatives, is it enough to bridge the digital gap in a country like India?

Nitish Jain, president of S P Jain School of Global Management, one of Asia Pacific’s top-ranked global business schools speaks with EducationWorld about the need of the hour, that is, online learning amid the coronavirus crisis and if the Indian education system is ready for this new method of teaching.

An educationist and entrepreneur, under Jain’s leadership, S P Jain is credited with several pioneering initiatives and has set several benchmarks in global business education, including a multi-city learning model that has seen its students travel to no less than three countries as part of their undergraduate / postgraduate education. The result of this is the transformation of business managers into global leaders who are adaptable, multicultural and globally relevant to companies of the 21st century.

Interview:

There has been an EdTech boom amid the coronavirus pandemic. Do you think EdTech can replace classroom learning? Are Indian institutions well adapted to this new online method of learning?

Online education has traditionally been positioned as a cheaper alternative to on-campus learning. However, in the times of COVID-19, studying from home has become the norm. So, can EdTech replace classroom learning? A resounding, yes! But, of course, it depends on the kind of EdTech in question. While some are expensive and offer the full classroom experience, some are incredibly low cost and naturally, offer a low-cost experience. Not all institutions are well-adapted to delivering engaging online experiences.

What methods can universities adopt to make lectures available online to  its students?

There are several types of online education. At one end of the scale, you have ‘asynchronous’ or recorded lectures (which is what most use). Schools/colleges have to bear a one-time cost of recording their lectures, and it could then be shown, again and again, for free of cost or at a reduced price (example: Coursera). Other technologies like Zoom, Google Hangout and Microsoft Team also offer decent online learning services. While these are economical, they suffer from a fatal flaw of being unable to engage or excite students.

A few forward-thinking universities have come up with their own online learning technologies that pretty much replicate classrooms down to the last detail. At the top end is the Engaged Learning Online (ELO) technology by SP Jain Global. Along similar lines are Harvard’s HBX, Oxford’s HIVE and IE Business School’s WOW Room. These offer you a live professor, teaching you just like s/he would in a live classroom, giving each student their full attention. Classes are timetabled, questions are asked and answered immediately, and the engagement is on par with what you would experience in a traditional classroom.

How can EdTech and online learning tools help in the current COVID-19 crisis?

Every industry has a spark moment. COVID-19 is that spark moment for online education. Yes, we all preferred the comfort of a traditional classroom, but with lockdowns and travel bans imposed for the foreseeable future, EdTech and online learning tools have been the ‘saving grace’ for students and educators worldwide.

At SP Jain, we have had over 2,000 students study using ELO in the last one month across our four campuses, and the feedback – from faculty and students – has been fantastic. A huge advantage is that it can connect and engage with students no matter where in the world they are. As the number of students experiencing this technology is going up by the day, we are expecting this technology to get a massive boost. 

Is online education accessible to all? How can this be made possible?

Online education may not be accessible to all at this point. Lack of infrastructure in rural areas and a lack of investment in cutting-edge technologies serve as the biggest hindrance in making education available to all. However, public-private partnerships and grants from the government can help overcome these obstacles, slowly but surely.

What are your thoughts on online examinations? How can parents and students be made ready to adapt to the changing times in terms of EdTech?

Several schools and colleges have had to cancel or reschedule their examinations, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, online examinations are not only a possibility; they have become a necessity. Of course, exam patterns will have to evolve, and educators will have to find the best way to assess a student’s knowledge of the subject without having him physically present in a classroom. It may seem daunting in the beginning, but the prospects are bright.

Over a period of time, we have got used to conventional options – physical classrooms, pen and paper exams. A complete and sudden shift to online learning might be far fetched but to start with, we can think of models which include both online and offline learning options to ease parents and students into the process.

Recommended: How are parents adapting to online learning amidst nationwide shutdown?
Also read: Online classes amidst coronavirus outbreak

Sukanya Nandy

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