Life in the last few months has conveyed an important message to all of us. The world will never be the same again. The times we are living in have necessitated significant adjustments, which includes those made by teachers and students ever since COVID-19 took the world by surprise less than a year ago.
Traditional teaching and learning inside classrooms experienced a complete shutdown for several months before the Centre decided to permit the reopening of academic institutions in a carefully graded manner.
In the meantime, online teaching became the new medium for teaching to ensure that students did not miss out on classes and received study material they desperately needed. Teachers created the latter while also learning how to communicate with their pupils in a transformed academic environment.
Not every Indian teacher is familiar with the nitty-gritty of computer or cell phone. This writer has spoken to several teachers who continue to struggle while delivering the goods in the online medium even today. And, their problems are unlikely to end anytime soon.
Besides, there is a difference between schools situated in urban areas and their rural counterparts. Many schools in urban areas have better-equipped teachers who have been able to reach out to their students during these unusual times through the online medium. Their students, too, have access to computers, cell phones, or both.
A high percentage of those studying in rural schools, or even small schools in urban areas, have suffered because they cannot afford to buy computers or cell phones.
But this will change as community online teaching emerges as an option nationwide. Creating an infrastructure that can cater to students at all levels across the country won’t be easy. It needs to be set up though, both for providing additional academic support to students after the pandemic fades away and for conducting regular classes in case of any emergency in the future.
As online teaching grows in relevance and teachers as well as students get increasingly familiar with the medium, we might see the emphatic emergence of centralised teaching systems for both schools and colleges.
Since there is no limit to the number of students in an online classroom, academic institutions can field their best teachers to take classes from their most important centres that students can attend for a fee from any part of the country.
Will this lead to fewer jobs for teachers? It will, with the profession becoming increasingly competitive and the quality of teaching exposed to one and all who wishes to assess it.
As this system gets increasing acceptance, admission and tuition fees will become far more affordable since institutions offering such an alternative will have many more students than earlier. With practically no expenditure on infrastructure, they will be able to offer almost as much for much less and still make hefty profits.
India being a densely populated country where millions of youngsters are in schools and colleges, distance education has the potential to serve a much bigger purpose. Quality interactive teaching can be an everyday affair that can reach out to the most remote parts of the country if we follow the current approach and implement it extensively.
Does that mean that teachers won’t interact with students inside classrooms as they presently do? They will, but opportunities to teach in such an environment will diminish with time.
The future will be mostly online, and we have taken a few initial steps that will take us there already.