Challenges Of Online Education For Teachers And Students

The pandemic has, among a plethora of other things, disrupted the practices and procedures of learning and teaching at all levels across the world. Such disruption, however, has significantly boosted the online education market which showed an exceptional growth rate.

Covid-19 and the consequent lockdown forced schools, colleges and universities to stop all regular face-to-face educational interactions between teachers and students. They had to move literally overnight to the online-only learning-teaching model. This entailed not only the proficiency of both teachers and the students in quite unfamiliar sets of competencies but also focused mitigation of infrastructural limitations like poor connectivity and low-end devices, revealing several inherent inadequacies of the existing education system.

Developments beneficial to the realm of information and communication technology (ICT) – like increased internet penetration, focus on appropriate skilling of the nation’s workforce and strengthening of the country’s digital infrastructure for education – had already sparked off some growth in the Indian educational technology (edtech) sector. The COVID-induced home confinement significantly increased the demand for online education as educational institutions as well as affluent individual families were compelled to provide for the use of information and multimedia education technologies to facilitate quality learning experiences for students. 

In India, edtech start-ups emerged in 2020 as the segment with the highest quantum of finances having received – in just the first nine months of the year – venture capital (VC) investments worth US$ 1.5 billion, as compared to US$ 409 million in the whole of 2019. As per authentic research, the ongoing pandemic has triggered off a 3-5 per cent rise in free audiences and 50-100 per cent growth in monthly revenues of several edtech companies. Such growth exhibits that for the global and domestic venture capital and private equity firms, the most preferred segment without a doubt is edtech.

According to reliable reports, Indian K-12 online education is projected to become a US$ 1.7 billion market by 2022 with a growth of 6.3 times. Initially, the sphere of edtech was focused predominantly on the K-12 segment. Now, however, the post-K12 market too – which consists mainly of digital support for college and university courses, prepping for competitive examinations and corporate training in addition to a few other components – is expected to grow 3.7 times to be worth US$ 1.8 billion. The entire Indian edtech market appears all set to reach US$ 3.5 billion by 2022. 

The Indian digital education industry is opening up to new and innovative ways of learning and teaching and is witnessing massive user growth. However, the very sudden shutting down of educational institutions and the rather hasty compulsion of shifting from face-to-face offline education to the generally unknown and untried online digital form of education has thrown up certain significant challenges for both teachers and students.

Some of the challenges faced by teachers 

Lack of technical knowledge: Most teachers are neither aware of nor trained in the successful utilization of the online digital teaching tools, processes and methodologies. Teachers, especially in Tier II and Tier III cities, face considerable difficulties in adapting to the imperatives of online teaching and conducting meaningful virtual classes. In fact, the majority of teachers possess neither the basic knowledge of using computers nor the exposure to effective online teaching techniques. More often than not, conscientious teachers try to overcome such problems through their own trial and error approaches and assistance from some of the relevant and free teacher training resources available on the net. 

Limited access to pertinent study material: Untrained teachers are limited by not only their inadequate technical competencies but also their insufficient skills and exposure to procedures of accessing relevant digital course material. Not only that, they have no option but to pick up, entirely on their own, the know-hows of curating the course content, breaking that content into suitable lessons, converting the lessons into electronic formats – using apps like PPTs, Excel sheets, relevant video recordings as also graphics and animations – and presenting the same to students as stimulating study material. It is laudable that many teachers are training themselves to use the open resources for taking the material online.

Insufficient monitoring of discipline: The main objective of the teacher is to facilitate quality learning among the students focusing on the discipline needed for learning with and among others. Classroom teaching is without a doubt better suited to the proper maintenance of discipline and implementation of commonly accepted rules for a safe and secure learning environment. In virtual classes, however, with teachers not having actual eye contact with students and students not having to abide by notions of learning with and among peers, it does become difficult for teachers to maintain discipline and monitor undistracted learning. For effective online learning from home, it is imperative that parents or other family members take the responsibility of providing students with the appropriate learning environment.

The problem of keeping students engaged: Making online classes truly interesting and engaging for students is surely quite difficult for teachers. The effectual use of digital multi-media tools for grabbing the attention of the generally inattentive students is the only solution that might transform students into self-directed learners. However, in order for that transformation to occur, teachers must undergo rigorous professional training which at the moment isn’t happening. 

The difficulty of tracking students’ progress: When students learn remotely, it is very difficult for teachers to have the kind of personal interactions with their students that in regular face-to-face classes helped them identify the students who were lagging behind or lacking in the interest for or were simply slacking in their subjects and initiate remedial action. While teachers do conduct a variety of assessments to ascertain the standards attained by students from online learning, at times there are reasons to suspect that the concerned student had not actually written the concerned test. In fact, there are many ways to bunk online classes while giving the teacher to understand that class attendance is 100 per cent.  As teachers have to spend substantial time on creating their lessons and study material, there is hardly any scope for them to engage with students beyond the time scheduled for classes and give them proper feedback. Teachers are often worried about the very credibility of the processes of tracking their students’ progress.  

Some of the challenges faced by students

Digital divide: In spite of the continuing increase in the penetration of the internet and exceptional growth in the sphere of information technology in India, the unfortunate divide between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots' remains intact. The underprivileged families cannot afford virtual schooling for their children who constitute the vast majority of the student population having no access to even the basic necessities of digital education. They do not own or even know anything about computers or mobile telephones or even internet connections. At the same time, there are the children of affluent families who are well exposed to and beneficiaries of the so-called digital revolution. This division is known as the “digital divide” between the new age “have-nots” and “haves.” However, it is good that the state and union governments of India have realized that there can be no social uplift without providing online education to the economically weaker sections. Several government agencies, as well as NGOs, are doing remarkable work towards making this happen.

Lack of digital literacy: While children of affluent families are becoming really tech-savvy, there are many students on the other side of the divide who are not technologically proficient at all. These underprivileged children have no exposure or awareness of things like how to log in or participate in live online classes or submit online homework. Even using basic programs of Word and Excel appears difficult to such students. They must be empowered with the fundamental knowledge of and exposure to operating the computer. Fortunately, the governments and other organisations are doing good work to achieve this goal.

Difficulties of sudden transition: The sudden transition from offline face-to-face learning to online digital learning has affected the students in several adverse ways. Learning face-to-face in school was primarily a social experience involving teachers, peers and others. Adapting to the needs of learning online in isolation without any real interaction with any of the partners in learning – classmates, teachers and others in the school community – is proving to be difficult for the students. Man is too social an animal to lead a solitary life. Students, used to learning in the company of others, are often unable to make the adjustments required for the isolated online schooling model. 

The education system in this country is moving more and more towards the blended learning model in the post COVID world. Blended learning integrates the best of both offline and online education to provide the learners with the best possible type of learning experience. We also need to overcome the constraints of the digital divide. The government and edtech companies must work together to come up with better-optimised solutions that address these challenges.

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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