Shaping India’s Online Education Future With Integrity

With students increasingly enrolling in online studies, many e-learning portals and EdTech companies have come to the fore to offer courses for various levels and state-of-the-art learning management resources that combine high-tech features such as virtual reality and AI-based interactive learning.

India is home to a large youth demographic and is expected to have the world’s highest population of young people in the next decade. In almost every conversation about youngsters and youth, the spotlight instantly turns to education. India has the highest number of universities worldwide and its education system has impressively evolved in the last decade, steadily gaining international traction. Classroom learning has always been the norm, while online or remote learning has seen encouraging progress in recent years. 

However, the Covid-19 pandemic changed the face of education significantly, necessitating a rapid shift to online learning, which is fast becoming a lucrative market. According to the Online Higher Education & Lifelong Learning study produced by India’s research firm RedSeer Consulting, the virtual mode of pursuing higher education will possibly become a $5 billion market by the financial year 2025. This projection is further fuelled by the fact that India is estimated to reach 1 billion internet users by 2025. 

With students increasingly enrolling in online studies, many e-learning portals and EdTech companies have come to the fore to offer courses for various levels and state-of-the-art learning management resources that combine high-tech features such as virtual reality and AI-based interactive learning. Further, access to higher education improved exponentially after previous restrictions of limiting online degree studies to just 20 per cent, were lifted.

The market potential and education transformation may make heads turn as remote learning and tests become the new norm, but issues of academic honesty and integrity remain a challenge for higher education in India.

Emerging Challenges to Online Learning

Online learning has emboldened some students to take the easy way out. In recent months, India has seen a concerning rise in student dishonesty in the form of academic misconduct. Instances such as students enlisting the help of external parties, sneaking a peek at the internet on separate devices and discussing exam papers on chat groups, have been widely reported. However, plagiarism remains the most common form of misconduct that continues to plague higher education. 

The expeditious transition to online learning has upped the ante for universities to conduct fair online or e-assessments, but the spectre of plagiarism constantly looms and poses a challenge to the legitimate grading of students’ work. With institutional reputation at stake, the urgency to implement stricter control measures such as the use of technology to tighten assessment security has become paramount in protecting academic integrity and producing high-quality students outcomes.

Reforms to the System

The intensified shift to online learning prompted India’s University Grants Commission (UGC) to release a circular in November 2020 with guidelines for re-opening universities and colleges post-lockdown. With some students potentially opting not to attend classes due to the precarious pandemic situation, the UGC recognizes and encourages online or distance learning as the preferred teaching mode. These guidelines are built on the foundations of the commission’s 2018 regulation for universities and affiliated colleges, to promote academic integrity and curb plagiarism in the higher education system. 

For its part, much credit goes to the Government of India for taking concrete steps to transform the country’s education sector with the introduction of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 in July 2020, to reshape school, higher and professional education. The policy clearly states, among other objectives, its aim to “bridge the gap between the current state of learning outcomes and what is required through undertaking major reforms that bring the highest quality, equity, and integrity into the system, from early childhood care and education through higher education.” 

In February 2021, UGC released its draft regulation to pave the way for collaboration with foreign institutions that opens doors for dual degrees and joint degree programmes. To perform well at a global level, the higher education institutions in India need to provide more significance to academic integrity. Indian universities need to preserve integrity, safeguard their reputation and showcase the quality of their education on the global stage.

Holistic Approach to Boost Integrity

Originality breeds confidence, which in turn, builds strength of character. To develop competent, capable global citizens of integrity, both educators and students need to be empowered in the importance of honesty and making responsible choices throughout their academic journey. 

Today, the rise of state-of-the-art EdTech and other critical technology has provided higher education institutions with the impetus to reinforce their overall learning and assessment infrastructure, and protect institutional reputation. The importance of integrity needs to be constantly emphasized for students by creating awareness policies and taking progressive steps to nip problems such as plagiarism in the bud, facilitated by technology-based text similarity and formative learning tools. It is equally important to bridge any awareness gaps with students by educating them about the proper citation of sources to avoid unintentional instances of plagiarism.  

The time is ripe for the higher education system in India to adopt a holistic approach to deal with dishonesty, uphold academic integrity and further enhance the country’s reputation as a global leader in higher education. Utilizing anti-plagiarism tools to help inculcate a mindset that understands and appreciates the importance of academic integrity will help educators and students develop a culture of ethical practices. 

The ability to produce honest and original work will not only cement the critical thinking abilities and knowledge of students but also reflect favourably on the institutions that have gone to great lengths to ensure excellence is achieved through integrity and hard work.

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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