Current pandemic, Covid-19 has forced education institutions including universities, coaching, schools across India, and the world to suspend their physical classrooms and shift to online classes. In India, while this transition has been smooth for most private institutes, the public ones are still adapting. There have also been debates on the nature of classes and the future of examination and evaluation—whether they could be conducted online or not. While faculty grapples with new ways of managing this sudden transition from offline classroom teaching to online education, students are left clinging on to their mobile phones and computer screens. If this continues for some time, how would higher education be affected? What are some of the deeper issues that require introspection? And what does this mean for the students going forward?

Getting Digital Infrastructure Ready:

As soon as the Covid-19 crisis broke out in India, as per Govt. directives all educational institutions suspended their offline classes and started exploring online classes so that students don’t have to suffer in their academic session and the syllabus can proceed.There was an advantage for some coaching institutes who already had a presence in the online market. Students immediately shifted their focus to these online platforms. But, looking at the duration of the lockdown period and in anticipation of losing these students to competitors, almost all offline players also started online classes by March-end. Institutes agreed that their transition to online teaching had not been very difficult. However, significant investment in infrastructure and additional training for teachers and students was required. Another side of the story is students also have to get ready with digital devices like Smart Phones, Laptop, Computer, or tab. There was a challenge that not every household had a digital device spared for their kids for full-time learning. This was rather difficult for Indian parents during lockdown because of their financial status and no income during the lockdown. Smartphones are the only solution to online classes but still, the computer is required for assignments a long duration of studies.

The transition of digital education:

Online education is conducted in two ways. The first is through the use of recorded classes, which, when opened out to public, are referred to as Massive Open Online Course (MOOCs). The second one is via live online classes conducted as webinars, or zoom sessions. Educational Institutions require high-speed internet and education delivery platforms or learning management systems, besides stable IT infrastructure and faculty members who are comfortable teaching online. Students also need high-speed internet and computers/mobiles to attend these sessions or watch pre-recorded classes.There are many platforms created to enable online education in India. These are supported by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), and the department of technical education. There also are initiatives like e-Pathshala (e-content), SWAYAM (online courses for teachers), and NEAT (enhancing employability).   Institutes started giving online classes on various collaborative platforms like Google Meet, Zoom, etc. So, the academic activities are much less affected. Few institutes like small coaching, low budget schools that were not financially stable started giving recorded lectures. Parents also understood the need of today due to prolonged lockdown and pandemic situation of country. They also invested in digital devices so that their child can continue classes.

Technology limitations:

Technology can enable different teaching methodologies, and also allow teaching a large number of people across the country. There may be some merits to face-to-face teaching, but maintains it is not necessary, given the number of online tools and innovative methods of teaching available to enable learning. Suppose a exceptional Maths teacher is taking class, and digitally recording the whole session. He then uploads it to the web. It would be available online and could be viewed by anyone who wants to learn. This is just one way; there are many innovative ways to use technology and improve learning and teaching. However, while technology is enabling, it can also be limiting, especially in India, where basic access is a challenge. Not every student has a computer or fast-streaming internet at home. This leads to issues with attendance and participation in online sessions. A survey by IIT Kanpur revealed that 9.3 per cent of its 2,789 students were not able to download material sent by the institute or study online. Only 34.1 per cent of them had internet connection strong enough for streaming real-time lectures. Students often do not have access to online facilities, especially the underprivileged ones who live in places with poor connectivity.

Education is not just about classes:

Many feel that online education is not as easy as speaking into the microphone at one end, and connecting a laptop or phone and listening in on the other. There are other challenges with this form of education which are faced at both ends of the spectrum — students as well as faculty. Education is not just about classes. It is about interactions, broadening of ideas, free-flowing open discussions, debates, and mentoring of each student which is lost in translation on the online platform. It is possible to incorporate mentoring, interpersonal relationships, and brainstorming in online classes only if you know how to deploy the technology. The key success factor is that both students and faculty must be comfortable with technology.

What lies in future?

Students have complained about lack of clarity going forward and what is the plan of action, especially with respect to examinations, results, internships, and placements. While most institutions of higher education are trying their best in this situation, nobody knows what will happen next. Most educators across institutions agree that there is a need to invest in creating standardized online education platforms, and not using apps and Google hangouts only; and to train both students and teachers. Others highlight the necessity to introspect on the nature of these platforms and how students are taught using different online tools and methods, while keeping accessibility and equity challenges in mind. There is also the need to understand all this across academic disciplines and institutions. The way ahead can be charted only if we take into account the diverse views of experts, and incorporate all the lessons learnt from the summer of 2020.Online education for students Advantages: * Saving commuting time to attend offline classes. * No disruption in learning because of the pandemic. * Listening to recorded and live conversations and working at their own speed. * Access to better faculties from distant places. Disadvantages: * Lack of free-flowing conversations, debates, and discussions * Technological difficulties related to weak devices or access to the internet * Getting used to learning and being evaluated online * Studying while living at home, with family and other distractions