Digital World Has Infinite Sources For Students To Sharpen Their Skills: Dr Achyuta Samanta

In an exclusive interaction with BW Education, Dr Achyuta Samanta, Founder KIIT & KISS, spoke about the ways in which the institution in particular and the whole education sector in general, is dealing with the pandemic. Excerpts:

Tell us about your journey of setting up schools and adult literacy programmes in one of the remotest areas of Odisha - Kalarabanka?

As recently as 15 years ago, the remote village of Kalarabanka, like many other villages in Odisha, was in dire need to upgrade its overall infrastructure, starting with Education. Unless and until the poor and the underprivileged are educated, one cannot empower them. I strongly feel that Education has the power to alleviate poverty and hunger. Hence, I set out on a journey to transform Kalarabanka into a smart village and the entire Manpur Panchayat into a Model Panchayat (cluster of villages).

We began by establishing a vernacular school, followed by an English medium school along with banks, police stations, healthcare facilities and more. The school provides Odisha Board and CBSE curriculum respectively. Both the schools have given 100 per cent results for over ten years. We have also started the Adult Literacy Drive, giving coaching under a local tutor to those who have not got the opportunity to avail formal education. Today, these two schools have provided education to approximately 5000 students and job opportunities to about 2000 youth from Kalarabanka. In 2016, the then Governor of Odisha declared Kalarabanka as a Smart Village. In fact, the entire village is now Wi-Fi and solar energy enabled.

How in your view, the Schools and Higher Education ecosystem has been affected Post-COVID?

COVID-19 pandemic has created an opportunity for change in pedagogical approaches and the introduction of virtual education at all levels. As we do not know how long the situation will last and how quickly we can reopen, a gradual move towards the digital mode of education was the demand of the current crisis. In response, UGC and MHRD have launched many virtual platforms with online depositories, e-books and other online learning materials. The right integration of traditional technologies (radio, TV) and mobile/web technologies to a single platform with all depositories would enhance better accessibility and flexibility to education. This would involve upgrading the service platform to enable it to meet the required volume of students ’demands. All service providers need to be mobilized to provide proper access to the educational service platforms. This new blend of online and the traditional model of education may perhaps continue for the years to come.

How COVID-19 has impacted education in Tier II & Tier III cities?

The impact on Tier 2 and 3 cities has been similar to that of the big cities. In fact, educational institutions have transformed their marketing and admissions to adapt to these changing times. Virtual learning has become a norm and the Tier 2 and 3 cities have charted out innovative measures to address the issue. The pandemic has forced them to come up with alternative and innovative ways to keep things up and running even as the workforce operates remotely to communicate, engage, and equip the prospective students to pursue their application, counselling, and fee payments from the comfort and safety of their homes. In fact, many higher-ed institutions from the smaller cities have been able to swiftly pivot to the new world order in no time.

What's your take on NEP 2020?

The National Education Policy 2020 is an ambitious plan to revamp India’s academic system by 2040. With over a hundred action items, the policy has sent stakeholders across sectors back to the drawing board to recast how they thought about inputs and outcomes from higher education. As a result of this policy, Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) will undergo a transformation as early as 2021. Fundamental and structural changes at schools, colleges and the online learning environment is explained in the policy and the COVID-19 pandemic has shown how important these elements are.

In the next decade, India will become one of the youngest nations across the world and it's crucial that we provide quality education to the youth. The NEP 2020 ticks all the boxes and could be a gamechanger as long as the implementation remains on track.

Any message for students and youth, in light of the changing world.

The youth today is very intelligent and has tremendous exposure to information. And our nation needs these brilliant young minds to make use of their intelligence and exposure to global trends in a positive way. Unlike in earlier times, students need not restrict themselves to classroom teaching. Education is much beyond academics and learning is an endless process. The digital world has infinite sources for students to sharpen their skills. Today, one can just pick up a new subject of their interest and master it in a few months by enrolling in the right courses. All of this was unimaginable a couple of decades ago. I truly believe that India’s best times are ahead, we are on the path to achieving excellence in all fields in the upcoming decades.

However, it is imperative that students give equal importance to moral values such as honesty, kindness, empathy and grow up to become good human beings. Each individual should be willing to give back to society and act as responsible citizens.

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