Reopening Schools, Combined With Social Distancing Is A Symbolic And Practical Herald Of Recovery: Prajodh Rajan
In an exclusive discussion with BW Education, Prajodh Rajan, Co-Founder and Group CEO, EuroKids International, spoke about the company and more.
What has been your business strategy to ensure a seamless transition during the COVID-19 lockdown?
The safety and well-being of our students, teachers and staff has been our primary focus from the time that the pandemic hit us. Once that was addressed, we shifted our focus towards ensuring uninterrupted learning. We started by making certain alterations to be 100% technology-enabled, so as to take our classrooms and delivery online. We also ensured that every member of the organisation, across the country, swiftly adapted to technology, once the lockdown was announced, as the new means of ensuring business continuity. Our teachers have played a vital role in helping transition our pedagogy delivery from physical methods to an online model. They have gone beyond their routine, I would say call of duty, to bring learning ‘home’. And our constant endeavour to invest in adopting to innovative digital and tech practices in the category has now come in great use as we’ve deployed them successfully across schools and now will soon be transitioning the same model across our chain of pre-schools.
Live classes through video conferencing and recorded sessions for the new academic year have already begun for our K-12 children, that is the mainline schools - EuroSchool and Billabong High. This learning has been further supplemented with digital textbooks, Q&A sessions and home assignments, powered by proprietary Learning Management System (LMS) Argus and Billabox. To ensure learning continues for our children in the early years, we have rolled out daily activities to engage with them via our Facebook channel and Pre-School Buddy App.
What are your learnings and opportunities during this pandemic?
The disruption caused by COVID-19 has led to the opening up of new avenues in the ways we deliver learning to our students. Within 72 hours of the lockdown announcement, we were able to transform to a fully tech-enabled work from home culture using Workplace by Facebook, that we have been using for over a year now for all our internal engagements. Also within a week of lockdown, we developed training modules that were conducted right at the beginning of the Covid-19 disruption. The training comprised of how to deal with technology for teaching, the assessment process and also on how to conduct classes online with tech tools. Our teachers then went on to taking virtual classes and have been successful in creating a positive, ongoing learning environment for our students. Our proprietary LMS tools Argus and Billabox have helped us to ensure learning continues for our students. What really helped us is the efforts we have taken in adopting technology to assist our growing business network over the last 18 months, as it really came in handy when making the switch to a COVID-19 hit scenario. All we had to do was to reinforce our apps and platforms for heavier usage by our students, parents and partners.
What are the current challenges in the Indian ecosystem for the education sector and what are the solutions?
The COVID-19 pandemic led to educational institutions across the world shutting down in the interest of the well-being of its students and staff. One of the key challenges has been the implementation of an online curriculum for children who do not have access to the internet. Some combined initiatives by the public and private sector have helped address a majority of these concerns. While the Government took some unique initiatives by using Doordarshan and All India Radio to ensure that learning is not impacted, the private sector used a combination of online classes and offline educational material to ensure that students were not deprived of continued learning. Meanwhile, the situation around COVID-19 is gradually evolving, and state governments are now looking at the staggered opening of schools, depending on the zones they are in-red-orange/yellow or green. Reopening schools, when combined with social distancing is a symbolic and practical herald of recovery. It will also address certain degrees of difficulty that students may face in resuming a full-fledged academic routine again after a huge gap.
A large part of the academic year is lost, how does it impact your business?
The academic year was nearing completion in March when we went under lockdown and this did cause some anxiety amongst parents and students. We laud the Education Ministry’s directives for their initiatives to alleviate students’ exam anxieties, as well as, their approach for the coming academic year. While the impact on the sector is similar to the impact every sector across the world is facing, we are also witnessing to the new ways and means to combat the consequences of this prolonged shutdown. Our academic models are also fast evolving in multiple ways and with completely new perspectives that we would have not thought of otherwise. We are already in the process of laying down plans that will include tailoring the business plans that will enable us to develop a process framework that will be beneficial to all our stakeholders – students, teachers, and administrative staff at every school.
Do you see the online migration of the academic curriculum continuing even in a post-lockdown environment?
We believe that a blended learning model, which is highly evolved and completely different from what we see in context to regular school models today, will be the future of education. We believe that enabling a combination of physical and digital learning environment will make learning more engaging and also not limit it to the physical structure of schools, but create a seamless blend between school and home. It will enable students to learn at their own pace, and at the same time ensure personalised support to those who need extra assistance from our educators, with the help of effective monitoring. We are now swiftly transitioning into creating a personalised learning experience which will help develop engaged, self-motivated and independent learners.
Is India ready for this transformation?
Covid-19 has placed all of us in an unprecedented situation. Currently, public and private players in the country are working together to design education models that deliver effective learning while protecting staff and students. Most schools across the country are already in the process of laying out plans that will include tailoring transportation logistics, delivery of extra-curricular activities, etc. and should be able to develop a process framework that will be beneficial to all stakeholders – students, teachers, and administrative staff at every school. We are closely following the advisories on post-COVID-19 school opening scenarios in India, and internationally, to look at possibilities on how to structure related activities along with regular academics going forward. We believe that in a post-COVID-19 world, problem-solving, collaboration and digital literacy will be among the top skills that will be required by students to adapt to future workplaces. Yet another important factor needed to successfully transform teaching and learning experiences will be educator skill sets – in particular, being trained to optimize technology in the classroom. Indian educators have already begun making the most of the available technology, and are further equipping themselves with the right tools to drive personalized teaching, manage online classrooms, content and assignments and collaboration among students on projects.
Schools will be required to open for the pending CBSE exams. How prepared are you to take students back?
Student safety has always been our top priority. It is our continuous endeavour to ensure the safety and hygiene standards at schools are at par if not better than what we have at our homes. We have to ensure certain basic measures such as checking temperatures at school entrances, upgraded infrastructure to facilitate both physical distancing and hygiene protocols at every school site. For instance, designated entrances and exits for different student cohorts sectioned off common spaces, and floor markings to direct foot-traffic flows to help students and staff maintain distance will have to be implemented. Similarly, portable hand-sanitizing stations at entrances and common areas to promote regular hygiene will have to be installed. We will also restrict the entry of parents into school buildings, outdoor classes and a physical distance of at least one metre between two desks.
What do you believe will be the impact and outlook of the new policies on the next generation of students?
The world of education is evolving at a speed faster than we can imagine and the next generation of learners, particularly the Alpha generation (those born in 2010) will need teachers to consider the implications of this generation as they develop curricula, plan for meaningful lesson experiences, and support dispositions like Habits of Mind. Contemporary learners want to know that their input is valued and they have a hand in choosing WHAT and HOW they will learn. Choices matter very much to contemporary learners, both those offered by the teacher and those that they come up with themselves. This generation will be the most technologically literate generation. While the technology itself will play an important role, it is what these students will do with the technology to create products of value, discover information, collaborate, give and receive feedback and foster innovations that will become important.
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