– Dr. Ajeenkya DY Patil, Chairperson, Ajeenkya D. Y Patil University, Pune
We have been through a year that has put us all to the test, emotionally, mentally, and physically. The coronavirus pandemic forced us to hit the reset button on many aspects of life as we knew it – travel, business, social interaction, and of course, education. While we all have taken our learnings from it, for the education sector, it has added a new layer to the existing system which, when channeled correctly, can be a game-changing experience to the way students access education, the way students harness opportunity. But are educational institutions up for the challenge?
The purpose of education has always been to enlighten, mould and stimulate young minds. And to that respect, the dynamism of a physical classroom, where the transfer of knowledge from tutor to student occurs, cannot be undermined. I am a big believer in the Socratic Method that involves dialogue-based interactions and question-based solutions – all achieved best in a physical classroom setting where there is more fluidity to deliberating, discussing, and debating topics than in an on-screen environment.
But when the pandemic hit and the world went indoors, we did what we could do best with the tools in hand. And what tools they turned out to be! Our technology enabled homes, got enabled. Our connectivity (and patience) was tested, but in the end, so was our ability to learn, absorb and participate in a new setting. Bedrooms converted into classrooms, screens into blackboards, keypads into pens and subjects into modules. But teachers remained teaching and students remained to learn. And they could be anywhere, plugging into the knowledge they seek.
At Ajeenkya DY Patil University we quickly realised that it was not just about changing the mode of delivery of education, but about maintaining or enhancing the quality of our delivery. We realised that the move from face-to-face to online represented a significant difference in the base assumptions about how we teach and how students learn. This realisation led us to diligently think about how we can build capacity amongst our faculty so that they are effective in teaching online, how we can use this mode to make learning more student centred, how we can help our students from being passive listeners to active learners.
We decided that rather than emphasising on the technology, we must focus on innovation so that our faculty can venture into trying new methods, encourage the faculty to evolve in this new role and share their learnings with their peers.
The truth is, we have all witnessed education as a path so far, one that is conscientiously embarked on until the path ‘allows’ us to pursue a different school or college to specialize in a particular area of interest. What if we have a wider path for our students? What if a child living in any part of the country can access a curriculum or be part of an institution in a different city, country, or continent? Will they be poorer or richer for it?
The answers remain to be seen, but the education sector must do what it can to ensure learning is at the heart of what we offer, not logistics.