COVID-19 IMPACT ON EDUCATION SYSTEM

Reading time : 12 minutes

The COVID-19 pandemic severely hit various sectors of India, including the education system. There were various transitions. This essay aims to analyze the impact of this pandemic on the Indian education system. It makes a study of the positive and negative impacts of this pandemic on the education system. The government also played a crucial role amidst the crisis. The essay aims to analyze the measures adopted by the government to handle the situation.

INTRODUCTION

Every year, winter solstice occurs during the year end.  In 2019, at the times of the solstice, a pneumonia outbreak was reported in Wuhan, China.[1] Subsequently, the Chinese authorities identified a new type of coronavirus. WHO renamed Coronavirus to COVID-19 on February 11, 2020.[2]

The equinox is in March, the day when the sun crosses the celestial equator on its northward journey. [3]The equinox of 2020 was accompanied by the recognition of COVID-19 as a pandemic by the WHO.[4]  There was an outbreak of COVID-19 in various countries across the globe, including India.

The government of India undertook various measures to contain the proliferation of COVID-19 in India. The measures included lockdown, night curfews, temporary termination of educational institutes, offices…. to name a few. These measures did leave their ramifications on the various sectors. The education system of India was one of them.

Following the outbreak of the virus, the government of India on March16, 2020, announced the closure of all the educational institutes across India.[5] This shutdown did leave a significant impact on the education system of India. To begin with, the shutdown was followed by the shift from physical to virtual classrooms. This affected the teachers as well as the students. This shift was accompanied by job losses and lay-offs in the educational institutes.

As the virtual classrooms became the new normal, there emerged a need for the digital tools such as laptop, desktop, internet connections. It underscored the stark disparity existing in the education system. It also unfolded the avenues of online teaching. The government of India undertook various initiatives to ensure an equitable access to the digital teaching platforms. It took various measures to train the teachers for online teaching.

Due to the pandemic various educational institutes of the country remain closed till date. A number of questions arise on the very thought of reopening of education institutes.

SHUTDOWN OF EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTES

As the number of COVID-19 cases started burgeoning in India, the government of India ordered for a temporary shutdown of the educational establishments across the country. This shutdown had a multi-dimensional impact on the education system of India. Initially, it came as a predicament for the education system. The educational institutes were not well-equipped to tackle such a crisis. Subsequently, it did unfold various opportunities to redefine the layout of the educational institutes, their pedagogy and the traditional goals of the education system in India.

Interruption in learning &loss of opportunities

Physical classrooms have been the underpinning of Indian educational institutes since the Vedic period. This fact gives a pivotal role to the campus of the educational institutes. This very bedrock of the education system was disrupted due to the shutdown. The need for social distancing in order to contain the spread of COVID-19 became very crucial.

As the students and the staff were out of the institutes, various issues began to grapple the Indian education system. Due to the abrupt and unpredictable shutdown, the institutes were not prepared with a replacement of the traditional methods. In the absence of a sturdy method of monitoring, there was a loss of touch with study and learning on the part of students.

Also, the teachers in various schools, colleges and universities were not familiar with any alternative pedagogy. This fact in itself implied that substitution of the traditional method will lead to the waning of educational standards in India. Also, reshaping the pedagogy in times of adversity meant psychological stress and anxiety for the teachers.

The equinox of 2014 witnessed the outbreak of a deadly virus in West Africa, Ebola virus. It was soon declared as a PHEIC by WHO.[6] Sierre Lone was one of the worst affected countries. There also, the educational institutes were under temporary suspension over a prolonged period. There was a substantial loss in learning. India has witnessed the same due to this pandemic.[7]

Research suggests that as the students are out of institutes, they forget what they had been taught. Also, their cognitive skills are affected. [8]Some of the efforts and initiatives taken by the governments of various states had triumphed in achieving the desired goals. As this pandemic hit India, these efforts could be annulled.

Learning loss usually refers to the loss in learning of students during long summer vacations in the western countries.[9] In India, even before this pandemic, the rudimentary level of learning was abysmally low. A report shows that in standard 5, after more than 4 years of schooling, only half of the students can read standard 2 texts fluently. ASER measurements show that a substantial amount of learning loss takes place among the students during the summer vacation period. [10]Since this shutdown has been much more prolonged, the learning loss can be even higher.

Also, there was a considerable volume of loss suffered by the college and university students. Due to the pandemic, the shutdowns and social distancing measures, various opportunities required for skill enrichment and practical experience were disrupted. Numerous firms, companies, NGOs, etc. suspended their internship opportunities. Online internships and work from home became the new normal. This seemed to intensify the existing differences in the availability of digital tools.

The conditioning of the colleges and universities plays a crucial role in providing a platform for students from different classes to efface their differences and create an equitable atmosphere. All the students were not able to adapt to the shift from offline to online, resulting in learning loss. This sudden shift in the mode of work seems to nullify the positive achievements by underpinning the differences.

Precariousness of exam cycle-hindrances in the academic year

As the pandemic hit India, uncertainty loomed the exam cycle and academic calendar. As there were shutdowns, the regular academic calendar and the exams were disrupted. This came as an apprehension for the students. The CBSE also ordered for a rescheduling of the remaining class 12 board examinations. Various competitive exams such as NEET JEE were postponed. The college students were replete with anxiety pondering over the uncertainty grappling their careers.

Various educational institutes started adopting alternatives to cope with the difficult situation. The impending examinations of the schools were cancelled and the students were marked on the basis of their previous performance and scores of internal assessments. Various colleges and universities graded their students on the basis of their previous assignments and scores. [11]However, such alternatives could not be adopted for the competitive examinations. Hence, uncertainty grappled such exams and psychological pressure pervaded the minds of the aspirants of such exams.

COVID-19 did take a toll on the mental health of the teachers and staff as well. Due to the abrupt disruption of the exam cycle, the administration of the institutes had to toil hard in order to normalize the academic year. This meant expeditiously adapting to the new modes of working. This mental pressure did give a gloomy indication for the education system.

  • SHIFT FROM PHYSICAL TO DIGITAL

Due to the expeditious shutdown of the educational institutes, the institutes were compelled to shift from the offline to the online platform. This change did bring along with it ample number of concerns. But, it also brought its own set of opportunities for digital education in the digital India.

Underscoring the digital disparity and unavailability of resources

This transition was an abrupt and coerced one. Due to outbreak of a virus with a pandemic potential, the educational institutes were not left with alternatives other than the online tools. But ‘digital India’ was not adequately prepared for this sudden transition. This changeover had a divergent impact. Some sections of the society welcomed it as a boon, while it was a bane for some other sections and even threatened their future aspects of learning.

One of the fundamental principles of the Indian Constitution is equality of opportunity[12] and right to education. In India, there are restrictions when it comes to the online tools. There are disparities in the availability of digital tools. This disparity has created a split in the education system. There is an old aphorism which says that, ‘calamities affect the deprived sections first’. This has been proved in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Several reports show that the digital disparity in India is very sharp. For a student with adequate availability of digital tools and a descent internet connection, online education means taking classes through online platforms and studying from online learning material. For a student without these facilities, online learning is an impractical and unattainable alternative. There are different categories even in the availability of digital tools and internet connections. Some households have multiple devices such as laptops, desktops, tablets along with broadband connections. Some households only have smart phones with data connections. Some households have a mobile phone without a data connection. Some do not even have a phone.

Across India, only one in ten households have a computer- whether a laptop, desktop or a tablet. Almost 25% of all the households have internet facilities, accessed by either a fixed or a mobile network.

The scale of disparity in accessibility to digital resources is so vast that disparity can be classified into several categories. Contrasting the urban and the rural areas, 42% homes in urban areas have accessibility to such resources, whereas only 15% rural homes are internet enabled. Regional disparity also persists. National capital, Kerala and Himachal Pradesh are the only regions where more than 50% of the homes are equipped with internet facilities. In Odisha, only one in ten homes have internet. In 10 states, including the centre of IT offices, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, less than 20% of the homes are internet enabled.[13]

As mentioned above, disasters strike the deprived first and the hardest. As mentioned above with the help of statistics, there is a sharp disparity in India when it comes to the availability of digital tools. This disparity did take a toll on the underprivileged sections of the society. In addition to the economic stress created by this pandemic, they were also struck by the abrupt changes in the mode of education. Thus the already existing inequalities in digital India were aggravated.

Digital Illiteracy- An Obstacle

Mere access to the digital tools does not ensure up to the scratch online education. If a person cannot use the digital resources properly, the access is of no use. A proper understanding of the digital tools is necessary for a quality online learning. Digital literacy will ensure that people are able to use the information technology in an optimal manner. The NSO report (2017-18) shows that 20% of Indians above the age of 5 years had basic digital literacy, doubling to just 40% in the critical age group of 15 to 29 years, which includes all high school and college students as well as young parents responsible for teaching younger children. [14]Taking the digital disparities into consideration, this digital illiteracy can worsen in the future.

Transition of didactics

The change was abrupt not only for the students and their parents but also for the pedagogues. The teachers had to deal with the sudden transition from offline to online mode of teaching. Before the pandemic hit India, a majority of teachers used to be terrified by the online platforms and online teaching. Due to this pandemic, they were compelled to take the bull by its horns. They had to familiarize themselves with the virtual platforms within a very short span of time. There was a surge in the search questions like how to teach online, best way of teaching online, etc.

Training the teachers to effectively impart learning through virtual platforms was a strenuous task for the administration of various institutes. Moreover, the teachers were not dexterous with the use of the virtual platforms. This has in a way abraded the quality of teaching in India. Also, not all teachers have adequate digital facilities at their homes. This digital divide degrades the educational standards of India.[15]

The crisis was not constricted to teaching. The next challenge in the line is to oversee the online classrooms. In the absence of a robust monitoring system, teachers are facing difficulties in maintaining discipline and propriety over the digital class platforms.

Online assessments

As the institutes were temporarily closed, the modus operandi of exams and assessments also had to be transformed. The digital trailblazing amidst this pandemic brought with it various online exam platforms. Like the online classrooms, online exams started becoming the new normal. However, questions were raised on exam probity, conducting online exams despite the disparity in the availability of digital tools, privacy issues.

As the students have to give various exams from their homes, a technology called as ‘proctoring’ has gained currency. It is employed to ensure veracity and authenticity in online exam. Usually, the candidates have to exhibit valid id proofs in front of the cameras of their respective digital devices in order to manifest their identity.[16]

Also, the upcoming technology of the 21st century, known as Artificial Intelligence (AI), plays a very crucial role in this proctoring. The components of AI are used in order to keep a vigil on the candidates. These include robustly monitoring the windows and tabs of the devices of the candidates, the sight of the candidates and the audio generated during the duration of exam. Some online proctored exams are monitored by an invigilator to maintain academic integrity and transparency.

Various institutes of the country adopted this method. However, there is a stark question mark on the viability and authenticity of such an exam. As mentioned earlier, there is a sharp inequality in the availability of online resources. Hence such exams can prove to be exclusionary.

Also this mode of conducting exams can raise privacy concerns. The candidates need to install certain applications on their devices. This can be the entry doors for various hackers. Also, giving access to the authentic identity proofs and the details raises a question mark on the wrongful exploitation of such sensitive data. [17]\

Silver lining in the dark cloud

This pandemic came as a disruption for the educational institutes, the digital inequality of India was highlighted and a long list of challenges grappled the entire education system. However, it opened up the avenues for probably one of the greatest assets of the 21st century-online education. By making the appropriate and optimal utilization of this opportunity, India can improve its education standards and also consolidate its global position in the domain of education. India should not leave any stone unturned.

Offline classrooms in India till date bear a resemblance to the traditional teaching methods. Due to this, the atmosphere in offline classrooms becomes very taut at times. The rigid chalk and talk approach inhibits the adoption of various contemporary and innovative means of teaching. The online education provides a pliable platform for the teachers, as well as the students.

The conventional teaching model in India lays immense pivot on grades and formulas but tends to ignore the development of the soft skills of the students. The students are often reluctant in asking questions. But the digital mode of teaching offers an opportunity to rectify the deficiencies pervading the traditional teaching methods. The online classrooms provide various chat windows to address the queries raised. Also, the online presentations and modules can be revised according to their own pace and comfort.

The traditional chalk talk approach inhibits the utilization of contemporary didactics. Through online platforms, pedagogues have started using creative means such as graphs, charts, online modules which have refined the earlier used methods. Also, the students can access multiple online resources according to their own convenience. Thus, their range of options has enlarged. Not only resources, various quizzes and games are available online to test the progress made in an innovative manner.

  • ROLE PLAYED BY THE GOVERNMENT

India is representative democracy. In times of such adversity, it is the obligation of the government to act as the shock absorber. The education system was shuddered due to the abrupt closures. As mentioned above, the deprived and the underprivileged faced twin challenges – grappling the pandemic and struggling with the digital disparities in our country. Various initiatives were taken by the government to mitigate the whammy grappling the Indian education system. However, there were certain foibles in these measures.

  • Setting the digital platforms in motion

As the pandemic manifested its impact in the education system, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) came up with several stratagems to palliate the bleak ramifications of the pandemic on the education system and to ensure parity in the availability of learning resources.

SHAGUN is an online junction under which the Department of School Education in the Government of India and all States and Union Territories has launched several e-learning platforms. The paramount purpose of this junction is to yield a platform for teacher-student interface, which was disrupted due to this pandemic.

Various digital education platforms come under the gamut of this junction.

National Repository of Open Educational Resources (NROER) – this platform enables access to online learning material, both in Hindi and English. It also promotes education through creative techniques.

National Digital Infrastructure for Teachers (DIKSHA) – it is a polyglot portal for the succour of teachers as well as students.

E-Pathshala – it is another vault for online learning material.[18]

Union Minister for HRD, Shri Ramesh Pokhriyal “Nishank” launched a web-portal YUKTI (Young India Combating COVID with Knowledge, Technology and Innovation). The portal aims to comprehensively address the issues looming over the education system due to this pandemic.[19]

‘BHARAT PADHE ONLINE’, a week long campaign for crowd sourcing of recommendations to tweak the online education infrastructure in India was initiated by Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank. The primary goal was to invite suggestions from all over the country to keep up the educational standards even during the pandemic[20].

In the final segment of the 20 lakh crore COVID-19 package, the government undertook initiatives to address the issues permeating across the education system during the pandemic. PM E-VIDYA scheme was launched to provide multi-mode access to digital learning resources. SWAYAM Prabha DTH channels were established to ensure equity in the availability of digital learning tools. [21]

The government was also mindful of the mental health of the teachers and students during these difficult times. In addition to the measures taken to keep up the sanctity of the education system, steps were also taken to keep track of the psychological condition of students and teachers. ‘MANODARPAN’ was an initiative undertaken to ensure a buttress to the psychological and mental health during the pandemic. [22]

  • Shortcomings on the part of the government

The government left no stone unturned in announcing schemes and programs to succour the education system in this adversity. However, it did fall short on taking the requisite substantive procedure to ensure equity and accessibility. This was evident in the form of disparities between private and government schools, increased drop out from private schools, unavailability of digital education platforms to the economically weaker sections.

Some of the earlier initiatives could have aided equity in the education system, but the abject execution exacerbated the situation. Bharat Network and National Knowledge Network were two courageous operations undertaken by the Indian government in the past.[23] The impetus was to build the foundation for a compendious digital learning platform in India. These initiatives also aimed to effectuate accessibility and equity in the Indian education system. However, the outcomes so far have been disappointing.

The measures adopted by the government to combat the ramifications of this pandemic on the education system have failed to address the inequity pervading the education system. The economic adversity which impacted the education system led to perilous consequences, both for the teachers and the students.

The report titled “Beaten or Broken? Informality and COVID-19 in South Asia” by the World Bank contends that the protracted suspension of education institutes in India may cause a loss of USD 400 billion in the future income of the nation. It also broached the issue of learning loss. [24]This is an insinuation for the Indian education system. In a survey structured by the Nobel Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi, majority of respondents sensed an increased school drop-out rate. Another report by the UNICEF in collaboration with ILO hints at increased school drop-outs and child labor as consequences of the pandemic. [25]

There has been an increase in the admissions in the government schools, as the paying capacity of the parents has been impacted adversely by this pandemic. In India, the government schools are widely contemplated as hubs of suboptimal education. Thus, the prospects of education seem to be desolate. Also, due to closure and drop-outs, the teachers and staff are at perils of job loss.

Thus, the pandemic has exacerbated the disparity in the education system. According to a report by the Central Square Foundation, the financial stress on the parents and school will have a diminishing impact on the Indian education system. It also mentions about the diminishing learning standards. [26]

Hence, the economic jolts resulting from the pandemic has permeated to the education system and the government has fallen short in assuaging these ramifications.

 CONCLUSION

The deadly pandemic has impacted the Indian education system. The education system has witnessed a transition in didactics. The pandemic has also highlighted the disparity in the availability of digital tools. The pandemic has resulted in drop-outs and job losses in the Indian education system.

Apart from these ramifications, there have been some positive consequences also. The pandemic has provided opportunity to revamp the traditional pedagogy in the education system. Various online platforms have devised innovative methods. However, the accessibility remains an issue.

Amidst these concerns, the government assumes a crucial role. It has launched various platforms to ensure smooth learning even in such difficult times. However, implementation has been lax. In order to tide over the crisis, assiduous planning and efficient implementation by the government is the need of the hour.


[1] News Scan for Dec 31, 2019 CIDRAP, https://www.cidrap.umn.edu/news-perspective/2019/12/news-scan-dec-31-2019 (last visited Dec 20, 2020)

[2] WHO renames Coronavirus as ‘COVID-19’ Jagranjosh.com, https://www.jagranjosh.com/current-affairs/world-health-organisation-renames-coronavirus-as-covid-19-1581494504-1 (last visited Dec 20, 2020)

[3] G. Gautama, Virus and school education, The Hindu, May 3, 2020, https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/virus-and-school-education/article31488997.ece (last visited Dec 20, 2020)

[4] Bindu Shajan Perappadan, COVID-19 now a pandemic, says WHO; India confirms 60 cases, The Hindu, Mar. 11, 2020, https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/health/covid-19-is-now-a-pandemic-says-who/article31043206.ece (last visited Dec 20, 2020)

[5] Govt announces closure of all educational establishments across India till March 31 – Times of India The Times of India, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/education/news/govt-announces-closure-of-all-educational-establishments-across-india-till-march-31/articleshow/74659627.cms (last visited Dec 20, 2020)

[6] 2014-2016 Ebola Outbreak in West Africa | History | Ebola (Ebola Virus Disease) | CDC, https://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/history/2014-2016-outbreak/index.html (last visited Dec 20, 2020)

[7] The impact of Ebola on education in Sierra Leone, https://blogs.worldbank.org/education/impact-ebola-education-sierra-leone (last visited Dec 20, 2020)

[8] Summer learning loss: What is it, and what can we do about it? Brookings, https://www.brookings.edu/research/summer-learning-loss-what-is-it-and-what-can-we-do-about-it/ (last visited Dec 20, 2020)

[9] An Expert Explains: How Covid-19 has hit learning The Indian Express, https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-how-covid-has-hit-learning-6524830/ (last visited Dec 20, 2020)

[10] An Expert Explains: How Covid-19 has hit learning The Indian Express, https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-how-covid-has-hit-learning-6524830/ (last visited Dec 20, 2020)

[11] Testing times: On university exams, The Hindu, Jul. 17, 2020, https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/testing-times-the-hindu-editorial-on-university-exams-during-the-pandemic/article32106056.ece (last visited Dec 20, 2020)

[12] Constitution of India, https://www.constitutionofindia.net/constitution_of_india/fundamental_rights/articles/Article%2016 (last visited Dec 20, 2020)

[13] NSO report shows stark digital divide affects education, The Hindu, Sep. 8, 2020, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/nso-report-shows-stark-digital-divide-affects-education/article32554222.ece (last visited Dec 20, 2020)

[14] NSO report shows stark digital divide affects education, The Hindu, Sep. 8, 2020, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/nso-report-shows-stark-digital-divide-affects-education/article32554222.ece (last visited Dec 20, 2020)

[15] Rohit Dhankar, E-learning in India, a case of bad education, The Hindu, Sep. 23, 2020, https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/e-learning-in-india-a-case-of-bad-education/article32672071.ece (last visited Dec 20, 2020)

[16] Explained: How proctoring keeps a tab on candidates taking online exams The Indian Express, https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/how-proctoring-keeps-a-tab-on-candidates-taking-online-exams-6718955/ (last visited Dec 20, 2020)

[17] Remote proctored tests raise concerns of data privacy issues and evaluation mint, https://www.livemint.com/opinion/columns/remote-proctored-tests-raise-concerns-of-data-privacy-issues-and-evaluation-11600655068753.html (last visited Dec 20, 2020)

[18] Government facilitates e-Learning Platforms for students amid COVID-19 outbreak Jagranjosh.com, https://www.jagranjosh.com/articles/list-of-digital-learning-platforms-for-the-students-by-mhrd-and-government-of-india-1584947155-1 (last visited Dec 20, 2020)

[19] https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetailm.aspx?PRID=1613569

[20] Government facilitates e-Learning Platforms for students amid COVID-19 outbreak Jagranjosh.com, https://www.jagranjosh.com/articles/list-of-digital-learning-platforms-for-the-students-by-mhrd-and-government-of-india-1584947155-1 (last visited Dec 20, 2020)

[21] e-Vidya programme to online courses, top announcements on education by FM Nirmala Sitharaman The Indian Express, https://indianexpress.com/article/education/pm-evidya-programme-to-online-courses-top-5-announcements-on-education-by-fm-nirmala-sitharaman-6414046/ (last visited Dec 20, 2020)

[22] Manodarpan, http://manodarpan.mhrd.gov.in/ (last visited Dec 20, 2020)

[23] https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/digital-education-online-classes-learning-coronavirus-national-education-policy-6580744/

[24] Press Trust of India, School closure may cost $400 bn to India, cause learning losses: World Bank, Business Standard India, Oct. 12, 2020, https://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/school-closure-may-cost-400-bn-to-india-cause-learning-losses-world-bank-120101200485_1.html (last visited Dec 20, 2020)

[25] Will Covid-19 lead to more school drop-outs? @businessline, https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/data-stories/data-focus/will-covid-19-lead-to-more-school-drop-outs/article33095912.ece (last visited Dec 20, 2020)

[26] Coronavirus To Have ‘Very Serious’ Impact On Indian Private Schools: Report https://www.outlookindia.com/, https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/india-news-coronavirus-to-have-very-serious-impact-on-indian-private-schools-report/357225 (last visited Dec 20, 2020)

Author: PRAKRITI SINGH

Editor: Kanishka VaishSenior Editor, LexLife India.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s