COVID19 Pandemic: Impact And Strategies For The Higher Education Sector In India.

Online teaching and learning are going to stay here and experts in the field of education believe that the virtual mode of teaching is the future of education post-pandemic

Over the past 18 months COVID-19 severely affected higher education institutions not just in India, but all other higher education institutions across the globe. The stringent restrictions from government authorities to contain the spread of COVID-19 infection have forced educational institutions to cancel academic activities, such as face to face classroom teaching, working in laboratories, examinations, internships and co-curricular activities are few to mention. Currently, it is seen that the COVID-19 is somewhat under control and some institutes may resume academic activities during an incoming academic year. However, we have not seen the end of the pandemic yet. In the coming academic year education sector need to make some difficult choices regarding how teaching will be carried out.  

Though it is a very rare situation in the history of higher education, however, COVID-19 has created many opportunities to move from traditional classroom teaching to a virtual mode of teaching using digital technologies. Almost all institutes in India based on their IT infrastructure capabilities adapted the virtual mode of teaching so that the learning of students is not hindered. In past one year it is noticed that it is the largest and fastest remote learning experiment in human history. It has pushed both teachers and students into the digital era regardless of their interest, skills and level of education. The teaching fraternity and institutes are making an all-out effort to improve students online learning experiences by training and adapting new digital tools. As technology advances, online teaching and learning are going to stay here and experts in the field of education believe that the virtual mode of teaching is the future of education post-pandemic. However, there are few institutes that have realised it and invested in training staff and improving IT infrastructure to stay in the business. 

Although the education sector in India along with various government schemes has made tremendous progress to give the best online learning experience to the students during this trying time. Yet there are other challenges faced by students and teachers coming from remote areas,  such as every student is not well equipped with the high-speed internet and digital gadgets, internet connectivity issues which is the harsh reality. Few health-related issues like longer screen time straining the eyes of the students, backache, mental health, anxiety related to their career growth were frequently reported by both students and teachers. It is observed that virtual learning is useful but not fully successful. So, there is a need for improvement in handling online academic delivery in the Indian context. There is an opportunity for higher education to respond to the issues related to the online academic delivery that arise due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Suggestions for higher education

Implement online student support services to cover emotional & mental health

Many education experts believe that the overall success of the students is based on crucial factors such as student motivation, concentration and social interaction. Remote and isolated learning has taken a toll on students emotional and mental health. Due to this students are feeling sluggish and unable to concentrate. Every institute needs to strengthen student support services so that constant monitoring and health-related issues are addressed on time. Further, higher education needs to prioritise academic and career counselling through online means and boost student’s confidence during this trying time. Offering virtual services such as medical counselling, mental health counselling, and opportunities to join virtual exercise classes for physical health could help to cope with mental and physical exhaustion. Higher education institutions must strategise how to promote and maintain students’ overall health—physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Scale-up teachers training for online learning 

There is no dearth of technology in India to deliver online learning, however, it depends upon how higher education institutes adapt it and invest in implementing digital technologies to enhance online learning. Secondly, teachers are facing a number of issues such as acquiring online driven competencies in planning, implementing and assessing the performance of their students using digital technologies. Every higher education institute must prioritise and invest in adequate training courses which assist them to use digital technologies effectively. Higher education must focus on innovative digital devices, the design of programmes to meet the online requirements, responsive curriculum, effective virtual laboratories, changes in internship models, innovative assessment strategies and examination patterns for the successful delivery of the lessons in an online environment.    

Another area the higher education must focus on developing strategies to maintain and improve the mental and physical health of teachers. This must be on high priority and should not be ignored. Many research reports reported that the teachers are frequently experiencing isolation from colleagues, anxiety and expectations to meet teaching standards in online learning mode. Uncertainty regarding job security, student satisfaction with teaching and day-to-day changes with teaching recommendations due to COVID-19 contributed to stress. It is also noted that in many higher education institutes teachers did not receive training to effectively cope and reduce stress, however, it has been left to the teachers. 

Higher education institutions must develop strategies to grab the opportunity to strengthen their evidence-based practices, provide accessible mental health-related services to both students and teachers and make the curriculum responsive with the help of digital technologies to the needs of the changing times.

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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