Online education has become the buzz word these days. Literate and illiterate, old and young alike are abuzz with this technical word which came into limelight amidst the Covid-19 pandemic to compensate the loss of physical and traditional mode of education.

This virtual mode of education has many benefits, some are quick to comment that “Online mode is the future of education”.  At your convenience and pace you can take up lessons and assignments.  Get in touch with imminent educationist and experts in varied fields at minimum fees.  Digital library offers vast resources free of cost in most cases. Learning is exciting as most are in audio visual mode. Graphic images and models help in easy assimilation of the concept.

The other side of the coin states a sorry state of affairs. ASER (Annual Status of Education Report) 2019 Manipur shows that in government schools 55.6% have electricity connection and mere 9% equipped with computer. According to certain survey conducted by Hyderabad University, only 45% of students has access to laptops and 50% had irregular internet access available to them. This is the case of premier central university and to even stipulate the conditions of other minor institutes and colleges and local schools is stressful. Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu’s recent remark on the huge digital divide is a big concern. He stressed on the need to make technology accessible and affordable, and pointed out that there were many children who did not have access to digital devices.

Most of the students reading in ukhrul town are from the villages and have returned home after the lockdown was imposed on the second week of March. They are left behind for want of devices and poor internet services. The average registered whatsapp number in a classwise group is at most 50-60% in Ukhrul town schools where teachers give notes, instructions and assignments through the medium. Parents despite cut in their income have to shell out Rs 6000-10,000/- to procure smartphone so that learning continues.

Before the advent of Covid-19 teachers usually discouraged the use of smartphones as it does more harm than good such as online gaming addiction and the like but now it’s a different story. Taking advantage of the situation many a student have fallen prey to online gaming addiction , increase screen time which have taken a negative toll on students. Teaching is an art which is a wholesome two way traffic but online education  as per our limited resources and infrastructure is a one way traffic where the fast learner, average learner, slow learner are not taken into account. Generally, there are three types of learners Visual, Auditory and kinaesthetic learners which are now clubbed into one size fit all teaching methodology.

World Health Organization speculates that we may not be able to eradicate Corona just as AIDS. We must learn to live together following healthy and safe habits. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom warned that there might never be a silver bullet for covid-19 in the form of perfect vaccine and that the road to normalcy would be long. He exhorted nations to rigorously enforce health measures such as mask-wearing, social distancing, hand-washing and testing. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that “Now we face a generational catastrophe that could waste untold human potential, undermine decades of progress, and exacerbate entrenched inequalities .Once local transmission of COVID-19 is under control, getting students back into schools and learning institutions as safely as possible must be a top priority,” he said. “Consultation with parents, carers, teachers and young people is fundamental.”

The much awaited National Education Policy 2020 emphasis more on integrating vocational education and internships from grades six onwards. This is to equip students with new skills. Carpentry, electric work, metal-work, gardening, pottery making, etc. We can make the best of the worst situation by change of mindset and exploring the possibility of education beyond the four walls of the classroom such as storytelling, reading graded story books, getting in touch with nature, cultivate hobbies, farming, livestock rearing, cooking, craftwork, learn folklore/folktales, life skills etc. Lest we forget that family acts as a medium for transmitting vocational knowledge and technical skill to children. The boys learn from their fathers and girls learn from their mothers.

Whether we like it or not Covid-19 is going to stay with us for long. The storm is far from over. We ought to find innovative and flexible means and ways to swim well in the storm.  Considering the wellbeing of children, Policy makers, CSOs and educationist may come together  to reopen school in phase manner taking into account the level of spread in the region/area  under WHO’s guideline and SOPs.  Fortunately most of the rural villages are in green zone.  Taking into consideration the massive reverse migration of educated youths and teachers from Ukhrul town and mainland India. Temporary Community schools can also be set up in rural areas generating employment and tending to the needs of children at the same time. It may also be a blessing in disguise to revive rural government schools too.

Finally we cannot have one size fit all solution. Traditional, vocational and online mode of education must work in tandem according to feasibility of the region. Online learning should be seen as supplement to traditional learning and not as an end in itself.

Amar Kasomwoshi is a school Principal and a well known educationist in Ukhrul.

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