E-Learning in an era of social distancing

It is undeniable that E Learning has given scores of students a fighting chance to keep educating themselves in these unforeseen times of lockdown and social distancing.

Photo courtesy- social media
Photo courtesy- social media
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IANS

Reports peg global cases of the Novel Coronavirus at over 25 lakhs, with India’s tally having past the 25,000 mark. Many are still of the opinion that the worst is yet to come.

Now juxtapose this with the fact that a sure-shot cure, in the form of a vaccine, is at least a year away, and we end up in a rather unprecedented and potentially catastrophic situation. There are two natural corollaries, one, we must protect our very elderly, and our young. Two, we must find ways and means to return to a semblance of enormality' even if that normal is a highly sanitized, new normal.

It is in pursuit of these above-mentioned goals, of protecting our young, and of life carrying on (despite the virus), that schools, colleges, educators, and learners across the country, are fast adopting E Learning. Lets delve deeper into the nuances of E-learning.

E-Learning - Phased Adoption

First we need to understand what E Learning is. Simply put, while sporadic E Learning by way of Smart Classes, Connected/Virtual Learning was already in practice across private schools in metropolitan cities, E Learning in the times of COVID-19, means, all learning through E Learning. Schools are shut. Students are home.

In such a scenario, while many schools initially adopted a wait and watch approach, a lot of the more well-equipped institutions have now ere-opened' their campuses, virtually. It ranges from certain relatively less-tech-savvy (and/or internet infrastructure deficit) institutions setting pre-made assignments to their classes/students that involves self-study and taking questions on pre-prepared Worksheets - to the more in-sync organizations that have infrastructure, teachers, and a student/parent community that is both well-heeled and well-geared, where these schools are conducting daily school teaching routines, schedules and entire curricula, through live online teaching, using a slew of platforms from Microsoft to Google Hangouts to Zoom & Skype. Here, students are practically attending an entire day's school, right in front of their computers/screens.

E Learning - Advantages

Now that this E Learning eextreme' has been in-place for a number of weeks, certain clear advantages and disadvantages have emerged. Specific advantages would include:

Mitigating loss of Time, Incomplete Courses/Curricula for Students

Being Constructively engaged for a large part of an otherwise frustrating lockdown-day that could lead to other problems such as anxiety, depression, and destructive outbursts

A chance for the entire Education Industry to remain eemployed' and paid, from Teachers to Administrators

Practice and Orientation into a possibly new way of life & living, given that there may well be a paradigm shift across the world, and a new way-of-life that entails sporadic yet regular lockdowns and social-distancing may emerge the norm

Finally, a chance for the younger generation to carry-on with their lives, build futures, plan ahead, which would otherwise simply come to a grinding halt if teaching/learning/education stopped

E Learning - Disadvantages

While there are obvious and undeniable merits in this new, forced-wave of E Learning, like most anything in life, there is a flipside as well:

Screen Overload is the other very obvious fallout and negative byproduct of this hyper-E-learning landscape. Upwards of 4 hours in front of a computer screen, listening, absorbing, learning, answering questions; it cannot possibly bode well for mind or body.

Security and Privacy issues have also been faced and exposed in the process of E Learning so vigorously. One is constantly hearing of incidents where hackers were able to access sensitive and private information of students/teachers using various ecompromised' E Learning/Video

Conferencing platforms

An Internet Infrastructure that in India, unfortunately, is still not of a Western standard, leads to further niggles during the E Learning process, from lack of net-speed causing delays and lags, to instability/consistency of internet connections

E Learning - Nuances

Aside from evident merits and demerits, E Learning in the present covid situation also presents a more nuanced set of circumstances that ought to be brought to light in order to understand the subject deeply:

That the E Learning experience is vastly different for different students. Depending on several variables such as internet speed, infrastructure, teacher-ability & screen-friendliness; not all students receiving E Learning get the esame' experience. For some it is great, for others, it isn't. Even among the student community, there are some who are naturally inclined and able to learn effectively through this method, while others are unable to, or are simply opposed to it

That E Learning is accessible to a tiny minority of India's student populous, thus making it very much the reserve of the privileged class. There is no E-Learning, for instance, taking place for the millions of government school children, for whom, perhaps there are more pressing matters than taking the grade 5 math class

It is undeniable that E Learning has given scores of students a fighting chance to keep educating themselves in these unforeseen times of lockdown and social distancing. It is in fact without a doubt, much better than something-is-better-than-nothing, is also without doubt. Having said that, there are many facets of this new education-model that will need to be understood, improved, enhanced, optimized, regularized, properly and fairly monetized, and more than anything else, made accessible, en masse.

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