Why NEP's emphasis on distance and technology-based learning is necessary

If India truly wishes to bring about good and effective education to empower the masses, then it has to offer technology-based learning platforms.

 |  5-minute read |   05-08-2020
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The New Education Policy has made several welcome recommendations, which, if implemented in the right manner shall bring about much good in education. Amongst such recommendations is the necessary emphasis on distance and technology-based learning.

If India truly wishes to bring about good and effective education to empower the masses then it has to offer technology-based learning platforms. For the next few decades, given the staggering numbers of youth aspiring to gain access to school and college education, it is almost impossible for central and state agencies to create the requisite and traditional physical infrastructure. Unfortunately, education, which is provided through technology-based platforms is generally looked down upon by educators and the lay public.

Existing myths

I have noticed with disappointment that an online degree or qualification does not carry much weight in India when it comes to hiring by private and corporate institutions. There are so many misconceptions that need to be dispelled in this context. Let me bring to the fore my conclusions on the matter of face to face or in-person learning experiences. I have made my conclusions on the quality of these face to face learning experiences of a staggeringly large number of individuals through extended personal interactions. I have, on clear and close questioning, found that each of these individuals has responded in a near-uniform pattern. They categorically admitted that their own face to face experiences with their teachers in classroom environments was almost always below par and often very poor.

main_online-school_r_080520103610.jpgAmongst New Education Policy's recommendations is the necessary emphasis on distance and technology-based learning. (Photo: Reuters)

Yet, they have also at the same time had strong reservations about online or technology-based learning. On closer examination of their perception of online learning, most of them in India seem to think that this involves either a video reproduction of a standard classroom lecture or a mechanical PowerPoint presentation. This is what leads to the problems of not according the right measure of respect for online learning.

The right pedagogy

It is appropriate that we first clarify the true pedagogy behind online and distance learning platforms in some highly regarded institutions. Anyone who needs convincing on how open learning embodies the sound and productive pedagogical principles must spend a little time exploring the website of the Open University at Milton Keynes in the United Kingdom. This will convince sceptics of the merits of online learning based on good pedagogical principles.

The unfortunate part in India is that there do not seem to be too many institutions that offer the right pedagogy for online learning. This brings me to the rather poor manner in which universities, colleges and schools have responded to the need to provide online learning to millions of students in India due to the pandemic. I have received numerous reports from parents and school principals on the indifferent experiences of learning online. Several school teachers are busy trying to mechanically reproduce their in-person teaching environment through the Internet. This results in making the lecture even more boring. Some others offer PowerPoint presentations with voiceovers. Such practices are killing the image of online learning and are also not leading to any knowledge transfer.

A way out of this situation is not far to seek. The first thing a potential online teacher must understand is that there is no unique and well-defined single method to teach online. A teacher must ponder over this statement carefully. As an illustration, I offer some insights on how to teach school students a topic in mathematics. This topic is taught at the level of grade nine in schools. It goes by the name of ‘The Theorem of Pythagoras’. The first thing a teacher must do is ask students before they come online for her class, to explore websites that offer lucid and interesting accounts of how this theorem was first discovered in India. The history of this theorem and how Indian mathematicians discovered the theorem much before the time of Pythagoras is indeed very interesting.

Thus, when the teacher meets, she must have produced simple questions for her students based on the information on the selected websites. She must also ensure that the students divide themselves into groups of five for learning purposes. When they meet online the teachers should run a quiz with these groups. When it comes to the actual statement and proof of the theorem, the teacher should point out three creative and correct Youtube videos. She must ask each of her groups to view the videos and she must tell them that she shall quiz them group-wise when they meet her online. She shall find some rewarding and some not so rewarding experiences but that is the name of the game. She shall do well then to go through her own favourite Youtube based proof of the theorem with appropriate comments of her own at the right places.

Evolution of lessons

This is just one way and I am sure this can be improved much and there must be several other creative ways of doing the same thing. I have tried these experiments with much success. It seems tough in the beginning but gets to be very rewarding as time goes by. The best part is that the sessions are easily stored digitally and can then be replayed by all as many times as they like. I have found that this has many a time resulted in far better learning when compared to the experiences of students in classrooms for face-to-face learning. I rest my case.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: The coronavirus pandemic pushed learning online. What does the future look like?


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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