The pandemic made the universities scramble into online education. What happens next is the question.
One line of thought is that this is just a temporary disruption. Life will return to normal, perhaps in 6 to 12 months time, and the classes will resume. Online will disappear to the margins, where it was.
The other is that this is an irreversible loss of innocence. The rubicon has been crossed and a new normal has emerged. Even when this pandemic is behind us, we will never go back again to education-as-usual.
Indeed, it is perfectly logical to see the pandemic-induced online surge as temporary. As we live through imposed constraints, it's hard to imagine anything to be long term. The changes have happened overnight and we have had little time to adjust to it. We are hoping this will pass - soon - alongwith all its relics and practices.
It is also true that online education has failed to live up to the hype. Universities and colleges went into poorly prepared, assuming, as technology companies wanted them to do, that moving classes online is a simple matter of Zooming the lectures. That online learning is a different thing and needs careful consideration of students' surrounding and their experiences has not been fully appreciated.
The poor experience that this created has made students demand refund of their fees. The shortcomings of this enforced online experience were too apparent and stood out to be a poor alternative of the real thing. Besides, the universities and the professors themselves treated this as a temporary solution too - hoping and promising both the students and itself that normalcy would be restored as soon as possible.
But the trouble is that the virus may never go away. Genie is out of the bottle, perhaps! It may take a long time - if ever - to get back to education-as-usual. And, in the meantime, while the 'normal' remains in a limbo, online may improve and new, more thoughtful, solutions may emerge.
A New Normal
This is the basis of thinking that this pandemic could be a pivot in Higher Education. This period of constraints will allow new solutions to emerge. That the usual things are not possible will create space for the emerging ideas to stand out and gain traction. The attention to the online offerings will eventually sweep away the hastily cobbled online classes that we do today; a new generation of tutors, who do not apologise for their lack of familiarity with Skype, will come about; frameworks and content will be adjusted to online delivery - and soon, sooner than we found a way out of the pandemic, there will be viable online alternatives on offer.
This could also be a more profound change than just more sophisticated platforms and online-ready course delivery. The profound changes in family life and work will also matter. Suddenly, everyone understands what work for home means, for starters. That strange possibility of the whole family in a single room working together is realised. Headphones and webcams are now household items; personal laptops are a necessity. For a long time, the evangelists of online learning focused on the supply side of the equation - better courses, cleverer platforms - and ignored the demand side of it. The pandemic has created the demand stimulus and at the least, enabled the material environment for better online learning. This should, in turn, stimulate a further round of supply-side innovations.
But whether this leads to an irreversible change of habit and creates new institutional forms at least as legitimate as the universities as we know it will depend on whether this emergent form addresses the value question appropriately. If limited to being the technology-enabled alternative of the classes that could not be held as usual, the online options will always be seen as deficient. However, if this becomes an entrepreneurial moment and unaddressed needs could be found and resolved, this will reshape the landscape.
Education needed a reset for more reasons than one. The work was changing. The society was becoming more unequal and with time, education became a factory of privilege rather than a guarantee of social mobility. The institutional form of education - schools, colleges, universities - creates value through scarcity and that artificial scarcity, in its turn, drives up costs of education without the corresponding productivity gains. Despite higher education's implicit promise of democratic inclusivity, its mechanism of exclusion has generated the opposite result - a democratic decline and rise to power of silver-tongued demagogues. Meritocracy exceeded its brief and encroached on civil rights, becoming the new excuse for deprievation. The mind-numbing failure to contain the Virus and protect our ways of life have highlighted these shortcomings - and as we slide in and out of the abyss, some fundamental education questions need to be asked. Not just about things universities did, but also about the things they did not, could not and would not do.
These are the real reasons the education may not go back 'offline' education. Not everything was alright and this opportunity now lets us see that. As we ask questions about all aspects of modern lives, we need to ask them about education too.
This loss of innocence may not be the original sin but rather the Promethean moment of lighting a fire.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
There is no other city like Kolkata for me: It is Home. The only city where I don't have to find a reason to go to, or to love. It is one city hardwired into my identity, and despite being away for a decade, that refuses to go away. People stay away from their homeland for a variety of reasons. But, as I have come to feel, no one can be completely happy to be away. One may find fame or fortune, love and learning, in another land, but they always live an incomplete life. They bring home broken bits of their homeland into their awkward daily existence, a cushion somewhere, a broken conversation in mother tongue some other time, always rediscovering the land they left behind for that brief moment of wanting to be themselves. The cruelest punishment, therefore, for a man who lives abroad is when his love for his land is denied. It is indeed often denied, because the pursuit of work, knowledge or love seemed to have gotten priority over the attraction of the land. This is particularly
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind , which echo the pessimism somewhat. I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope. However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right
The ‘Why’ Question? Adolf Hitler was appointed the German Chancellor by President Von Hindenburg on 30th January 1933. This was an extraordinary turn of events. Previously, President Von Hindenburg consistently refused to appoint Hitler the Chancellor, despite the impressive electoral performance of NSDAP in July 1932, Hitler’s uncompromising demand of the Chancellor’s post and a repeat election in November 1932 which failed to break the deadlock. Explaining his refusal, Hindenburg wrote in a letter on 24th November, “a presidential cabinet led by you would develop necessarily into a party dictatorship with all its consequences for an extraordinary accentuation of the conflicts in the German people.” The question ‘why’ Hitler was appointed Chancellor, despite the President being acutely aware of what might follow, is therefore a significant one. The NSDAP had election successes throughout 1932, and was already the biggest single party in the Reichstag and various Landtags acros
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.