Mobilising Education To Bridge The Accessibility Gap During COVID-19

The pandemic has forced schools and colleges to rethink their academic practices, with several institutions now forced to redesign their course curriculum to suit the requirements of this new digital era.

The rapidly evolving environment dictated by the COVID-19 global pandemic is changing the very narrative of our lives. The new normal is gradually becoming the new way of life. As the ‘Future of Work’ is getting reshaped to meet the requirements of a post-pandemic world, the question arises as to whether the country can enable an entirely digitised way of life. Technology has now become the inflexion point that decides whether we pivot or perish in our respective industries. Organisations and academic institutions that are unwilling to embrace new-age technologies will eventually risk redundancy and lose their USP, thus losing favour with their target group, in a sea of competition.   

The pandemic has forced schools and colleges to rethink their academic practices, with several institutions now forced to redesign their course curriculum to suit the requirements of this new digital era. However, despite the mass transition to digital, the reach of these initiatives is still somewhat limited to areas with access to the internet. As 60% of India is still rural, the benefits of technological advancements are felt only in urban clusters across metropolitan cities. To combat this issue, a proactive way to ensure increased reach is through offline courses that can be downloaded and then accessed without the internet. Course material that can be accessed on 2G cellular service would also be ideal as it will allow students the necessary access, especially in remote areas with limited broadband service. In line with this, students can access subject materials of various courses and use the same to maintain a continuous system of learning.   

One big issue that needs to be addressed in the e-learning environment is the lack of interpersonal feedback on student performance from instructors. There needs to be continuous feedback from teachers, peers and seniors/role models to ensure that students are on the right track. To cater to this, initiating a mentorship system among students could help ensure consistent support in real-time as well as remotely. Students who require counsel can reach out to their assigned mentors via call or SMS and clarify doubts without feeling overwhelmed by the lack of guidance.   

Of late, blended learning has witnessed an uptick in implementation across educational institutions as it provides both educators and students with the best of both worlds. The academic technique of engaging with students online and allowing them to consume course content might not hold good in locations with limited broadband connectivity and lack of access to smart devices. While blended learning has its merits, we still require the requisite infrastructure to be put in place to cement the inaccessibility gap.   

While digital education is a stopgap until schools and colleges can resume normal functioning, the sustainability of this exercise remains in question. Digital adoption is slowly becoming a long term solution to enable democratised access to education for most countries across the globe. What will fuel this adoption is rapid advancement in setting up of its digital infrastructure that ensures accessible education across communities and geographies. It will encourage building up a system of continuous learning.  

Furthermore, students today also need to ensure they are skilling themselves in proportion to current industry trends and requirements. Staying abreast of industry trends and maintaining a dynamic portfolio is the best means to ensure that we are ready to embrace the future of work. Upskilling and re-skilling opportunities, therefore, are very critical in the current scenario. These skilling initiatives need to be made available across regions to ensure equal opportunities for all, and this can effectively by breaking the barriers posed by limited technological infrastructure.  

While there is still a long way to go before we can successfully implement a seamless and unified system of education that can easily penetrate existing barriers to learning and accessibility. Nevertheless, the current situation has proven that we are resilient despite adversity and will continue to make strides in accessibility in the months to come. The ultimate goal is to arrive at a curriculum that prepares students to integrate seamlessly into the workforce of tomorrow, with hands-on skills and sound fundamentals.   

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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education Accessibility Gap COVID-19

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