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Learning Technology And Learning With Technology Are Two Different Things

A deluge of applications, all dressed as the answer to bridge the gap has overwhelmed the digital and social channels leaving the audience clueless on which suits them.

The biggest beneficiary of the Coronavirus pandemic has been the ruse of technology being offered as the manna for all things wrongs. A deluge of applications, all dressed as the answer to bridge the gap has overwhelmed the digital and social channels leaving the audience clueless on which suits them. While I will not go into the merits of the associated marketing, a cursory glance at the ecosystem would reveal a bewildering array of choices.  

But, let's just park our prejudices aside and look at the new vertical that technology has made inroads into. Teaching. And I say teaching versus Learning with some amount of conviction. Multiple governments have proposed that teaching be taken online to compensate for the loss of school days. Some have gone as far as to start classes.  

Infrastructure

This needs to be seen in the light of a disproportionate reach of technology infrastructure in the country. Essentially it is the urban elite and peripheral geographies that have gained in the last few years. Meaning, they also have some semblance of a technology infrastructure to aid learning. Connectivity into the rural hinterlands is still a far cry.  

Allow me to make a clear differentiation here. Connectivity should be seen as mobile (and by extension, mobility data) that has made substantial inroads in the country. But to presume that consistency is good enough to conduct classes; almost all of it consisting of rich data, might be stretching it a little too thin. Most schools feed of cluster of students staying in the vicinity. Hence, the pressure on the infrastructure around these geographies is that much more acute. Now, extrapolate that for rural India. 

To conduct rich media, video-driven, lag-free classes, the domestic connectivity should have a good amount of redundancy built into it. But currently, connectivity at home in India falls into two broad baskets; WiFi connectivity and Fiber connectivity. The first is still largely an urban occurrence with the entire family feeding off it. The second is a fail-safe, largely resorted to when the WiFi does not reach extended corners. Now considering that all these classes are conducted during daytime, imagine the pressure on the infrastructure and the resultant lag.  

Cost

Ask any household in India and the cost of connectivity is factored in as a MONTHLY EXPENSE. And the term says it all. The propensity to jump service providers is therefore very high at the slightest hint of an offer. Rolled backwards, this points to the still high entry cost for a household to enter the extolled status of a connected household; many times being the agenda of a conversation even among the rural elite.  

And now we bring in teaching into the mix

Globally, teaching has always been an interpersonal interaction between the teacher and the student as famously quoted “how far a student goes in life is directly proportional to how far the teacher went in the class”. Nothing can replace the individual attention that a teacher could give and monitor within the confines of a classroom. Unfortunately, the social fabric of a classroom has been irreversibly disrupted.  

You could broadly classify students into two groups; those that have an aptitude for technology and those that don’t. By extension, the argument can be extended to students who have an aptitude for finance as well. But, that’s a story for another day. 

Those who have an aptitude for technology could take to learning online without batting an eyelid. But even they would falter at times when the teacher explains a complex point. Allow me to through light on a peculiarity in India. Most often, you (and in this case, the student) is advised to mute his microphone during a class. The higher bandwidth used with multiple line of audio plays havoc with the system. So, when the student wants to ask a question, he or she has to first unmute and then ask the question. By which time, the vastness of the topic has pushed the teacher on to the next topic. Now, extrapolate that to a child who is slow with technology.   

So, how can we build a certain sense of empathy into the picture? 

Start with the teacher  

Coming from a family of teachers, the author has seen first-hand, the monotony and thanklessness associated with the job. The joke in the circles is that the salary and the subject spread are disproportional. But jokes aside, teachers are used to a free-flowing monologue until interrupted in real-time. And the current textbooks are built without pauses. Hence the need to stop, reiterate, invite and clarify the student’s doubts.  

The solution is to compartmentalise. Each session is typically a chapter. Breaking it down into sub parts and tying the ends with a task to do, in class can help. Homework will not work because there is simply no review in person. And since the kids are not in a 9 to 3 scenario, taking a little extra time can help take them along and assuage them. If consistency in-network is an issue, keep the chatbox (available on most industry-grade video conferencing software) open. So the student can ask a question and the teacher can take a break and answer it. That way, the child will feel involved.  

Ask us, the corporate professionals. Attention span on a PowerPoint presentation is hardly 3 minutes. And you are expecting children to pay attention longer!  

While it is admirable that governments have woken up to the power of technology, it might make a tad better sense to give all the stakeholders a handholding, to begin with; starting with the teachers. Their interest, involvement, management of the medium and net output will definitely increase.   

This pandemic has therefore reversed the tables. Those teachers will have to become the first students of technology if they have to stay motivated on the job. 

Until the infrastructure grows by leaps and bounds, to all the teachers out there, slow down. Your kids will pick up the pace.  

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house



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