Let us understand the situation in practical terms. Due to COVID crisis, students are unable to come to schools. How long this will continue is uncertain. So, that gives us two options: Discontinue delivering Education or leverage on available technology.
Discontinuing education is a choice left to the parents and the student, and also the Government. Opinions around discontinuing Education for a year are contrasting. So, I will not take sides, and let us leave it to the parents and the students to make that decision. The outcome of doing that, may be that they still get to move to the next higher grade anyway, if the government decides so.
When technology is available to meaningfully engage students online to provide continuity to their learning remotely? Why not us it. We have seen a lot of things going digital and online. Even children watch cartoons or movies online. On Smartphones to large television screens. Is that not screen time? So its a question of educated and well-informed choice one has to make. May be cutdown on screen time for games and entertainment and provide space and time for children to learn online at home. Is it possible to achieve this balance? I think so. Educated parents, who are willing to accept reality, and may even have access to counselling can make their decisions, one way or the other. Domestic, and family situations are varied, and circumstances arising out this will determine the disposition of the parents and the children about remote learning, how much, how long etc.
Leveraging on Education technology, and improvising on it, and be creative in how it is used? Most schools are delivering education online. Some of them just do lectures online, and some of them at the top end of the spectrum do it more innovatively. Providing toolkits for teachers and also for students, specific to their requirements. The toolkits comprising of curated digital interactive content, ofcourse access to online learning, and printed books, and workbooks for self-learning, accompanied by materials that they can use in conducting learning activities. A blended remote learning model.
The key actors in this situation are:
The COVID itself and the uncertainties surrounding it. Mostly not in our control except taking all precautions as advised by professionals.
Students at parents; no party should force any decision on them, but let them make an informed decision, and a balanced decision. During such challenging times, it is impossible to understand the situation of each family and hence we cannot be making decisions on their behalf, but provide advocacy, counselling and help them arrive at decision. We have to accept that their is anxiety amongst students, and parents, not only about embracing digital and online learning, but also about layoffs, pay cuts etc.
School management and leadership: Some of them would fell morally obliged and socially responsible to provide education continuity and strive to do their best, given there resources and a deep understanding of the technology and pedagogy of online learning. Society expects that Schools to behave responsibly and demonstrate their commitment to education during these tough times. School leadership standouts doing such unexpected crisis times. In the normal times, exceptional leadership does not stand out. This is the time to stick their necks out and demonstrate their commitment to education.
However, Let us be empathetic to schools that may not have the resources to do it. As long as the school systems are run in a transparent manner, it will be obvious to the community and the society at large if the inabilities for a school or lack of resources are real and true. In such cases the students and parents will seek out to subscribing to private online education providers.
Undesirable but in some cases the outcomes have been teacher layoffs, Pay cuts, postponement of salaries etc. The teaching community will see it as unfair, and cruel. Yes, because school teachers barring exceptions are not highly paid, and sudden stoppage of incomes gravely endanger their livelihoods. Eventually for schools who operate ethically and righteously, their ability to pay salaries depends on their income by Fees. If a school does not receive fees, because the parents decide not to pay fees either taking shelter under Government policies or because they are genuinely impacted in their earnings due to layoffs, paycuts etc. Even the affluent amongst them may refrain from paying fees until and unless it becomes inevitable. That is not fair either. Is that not being socially irresponsible?
Private unaided schools are seen as money making machines unfortunately. The truth is some are and many are not. There are schools that are transparent, and have a firm belief systems and values. You cannot arrive at opinions or create a negative perception of all private education providers. They are an integral part of the Education fabric. Can we imagine the education terrain bereft of private unaided schools?
It is time to set the right expectations and “cut the clutter” and make informed decisions. this is for all key stakeholders involved in providing education: Students & parents, School leadership, Educators and teachers, Policymakers and Government.
It is all joined at the hip. It is time that we think act collectively for the good of the Nation, as Education is amongst the most fundamental and high priority sector.
It is time to plan and execute to meet the education needs, possibly for an extended period of the COVID crisis.
And who knows even after the inevitable return to normal or the new normal, their may be another crisis around the corner. However unlikely it may be here is an opportunity think it through and be fully prepared in the face of any such eventualities in the future.
Let us all act responsibly and be fair to every stakeholder involved in delivering Education. It is time for Teamwork!