Covid-19: How education can be the silver lining in pandemic cloud

Schools and colleges can play very interesting, enriching and constructive roles through educational activities during the pandemic.

 |  5-minute read |   29-04-2020
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I have consistently maintained that the dark coronavirus cloud has also got many silver linings. One of these silver linings is closely connected with education. Schools and colleges can play very interesting, enriching and constructive roles through educational activities. It shall not be out of place to highlight some of them through this column.

Net benefits

Of course one of the big positives that has come about is that teachers and students in so many schools and colleges have taken to online and technology-based learning. I've been advocating the use of this for many years. I am aware that many sceptics shall not hesitate to come forth with the usual quip that such online learning can never replace a good teacher in the standard model of 'in person' or 'face-to-face' teaching. I've always wondered if such critics have ever bothered to ask themselves as to how many gifted and exciting teachers have they really encountered in their student days. And therefore my response has always been to the effect that you can never really replace a good teacher but what about the not-so-good ones? And the idea is not to replace any teacher.

main_online-learning_042920102809.jpgThe students are allowed to explore all kinds of topics and themes from the internet and the teacher is just a fellow traveller with the students. (Photo: Reuters)

Judicious use of technology and online platforms enables a teacher to evolve into a true guru or mentor. I have on many an occasion summoned and placed enormous evidence in this context. As recently as a few days ago I gave a lecture-online-to a Facebook audience entitled 'Unleashing The Power Of The Web As a Knowledge Device'. There were a large number of teachers in the audience as also students. The encouraging news is that I have received very positive feedback on the points that I made in the webinar.

The thrust of what I said in my webinar was that the World Wide Web offers a huge and exciting resource base that needs to be used by teachers and students in creative ways and it shall bring nothing but gain for them. As Chancellor of another university, I played a role in introducing a credit course last semester with the same nametag as the title of my webinar. Students from every discipline were allowed to take credit from this course. Of course, we needed a teacher who played the role of a mentor.

The students were allowed to explore all kinds of topics and themes from the internet and the teacher was just a fellow traveller with the students. The course proved to be a success. For instance, a group of students in this course learnt how ice was made in Delhi during the Mughal era when there was no electrical power. Perhaps the time has come for Indian educators to explore ways and means of truly empowering our teachers and students so that they can take genuine advantage of the Internet and of technology.

One for students

When I say such things I have in mind the countless students across the length and breadth of our blessed land that do not have any teachers at all. This is best illustrated by the fact that even though the School of Open Learning at Delhi University offers a very rudimentary use of technology-based learning it has more than 3.5 lakh students on its rolls. And let us not forget that the enrollment numbers at the Indira Gandhi National Open University are higher than the combined enrollment of most of our central universities. There is a message here for all educators and the sooner they pay heed to the message the better. The encouraging news is that the first step has been taken as a silver lining to the dark Covid-19 cloud with the initiation of basic online-based learning.

The good news

There is another silver lining that has come to the fore through this dark cloud. I have conducted webinars with school and college teachers encouraging them to undertake simple exercises that involve analysing data related to the coronavirus. There is so much that school teachers can do by getting their students to study the freely available data on various aspects of the virus. This exercise involves simple use of statistical concepts that are taught at the level of the 9th grade in schools. The advantage of such an exercise shall be manifold. For instance, a group of four scientists at Houston analysed the freely available data on the Web and discovered a very interesting and startling correlation. They found through simple data analysis that the death rates due to the virus are very low in all those countries that have a vigorous BCG vaccination programme.

The good news is that India has a very vigorous BCG vaccination programme since 1971 and this may be one of the reasons why India has fared well in the context of the onslaught of the virus. Of course, the lockdown has also made a difference. Also, a prominent Israeli scientist has concluded through simple data analysis that the virus has not been able to cause damage beyond 8 weeks in every single nation that it has invaded. Such good news can be harvested through simple school-level data analysis. Our teachers should use these live examples and many more such instances that are available through the Web in the context of the virus. The best part is that all of this can be done online and may perhaps lead to some new discoveries from our students.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: What Covid-19 can teach us about redefining our academics and research

Writer

Dinesh Singh Dinesh Singh @dineshsinghedu

The writer is former Vice-Chancellor, Delhi University and currently Adjunct Professor of Mathematics, University of Houston, USA

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