Coronavirus crisis disrupts academic calendar, but opportunity to experiment in mass remote learning and teaching could reshape education

The new approach in the current scenario will not be just about altering the academic calendar, but also for pushing for the new modes of learning, pedagogy and teaching, that will lead to bigger fundamental changes going forward.

Debashis Chatterjee April 16, 2020 09:14:18 IST
Coronavirus crisis disrupts academic calendar, but opportunity to experiment in mass remote learning and teaching could reshape education

As the biblical legend goes, the mightiest of Goliaths have often been brought down by the puniest but unyielding of Davids. It is therefore no surprise that the most intelligent of the earth-dwelling species is now most recently found wanting against the SARS-CoV-2, all of just 32 kilobases long and noticeable only through a single-focused eye aided by a powerful electron microscope.

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Perhaps what they lacked in intelligence they more than made it up with their adaptability! The halo wearing family of coronavirus survived, thrived and adapted its way through a winged mammal, followed by an unknown another, to finally pose as the biggest disruptor the homo sapiens have encountered in the 21st Century.

The most-defining images that will stay forever with us of this lockdown period is the sea of migrants attempting to plough their way back through the network of urban Indian metros in a desperate bid to seek solace in the known. For the fear of the unknown, untested, unimagined and unprecedented pushed everyone into a corner.

Businesses stopped, streets were left deserted, offices and corporates championed work-from-home, and so the world came to grinding halt. Nobody had ever thought that their greatest contribution to nation during tumultuous times would be to simply confine themselves to their homes. But this economic upheaval also offers a rare opportunity to restructure our economy, to rewire our mindset, to rethink our education and to finally realign our learning.

Not since the World War II have so many countries around the world seen schools and educational institutions go into a lockdown around the same time and for the same reason. This might just be the disruption that the sector needed to get us all to rethink on how we educate and question what we are preparing our students for. This is also an opportunity for mass experimentation in remote learning and teaching.

The necessity to keep the show running will eventually witness the deployment of digital technologies to transform the education sector radically. IIM Kozhikode pioneered the Interactive - Learning (I-L) Program for working executives in India, in the internet’s formative years in India and rolled 300 class contact hours in 2001-02, an unparalleled feat during that era.

We had foreseen long before anyone in the country, that geographical and physical barriers in education can only be bridged by technology. It is that experimentation which gives us the confidence as we plan to take on the challenge of the upsetting of a well-synchronised academic calendar.

The new approach in the current scenario will not be just about altering the academic calendar but also for pushing for the new modes of learning, pedagogy and teaching, that will lead to bigger fundamental changes going forward. Businesses, too, will have to take the aid of technology to keep their activities ticking and their employees clicking.

In its preliminary assessment report titled " COVID-19 and world of work: Impacts and responses", the International Labour Organization (ILO), has predicted that nearly 25 million jobs could be lost worldwide due to the coronavirus pandemic. The resultant rising unemployment will intensify pressure on governments and central banks to speed delivery of social welfare programmes to prevent the situation from spiraling into a societal uprising of calamitic proportions.

IIMs, with their robust training and intensive approaches, will be able to tide over their impending placements for their fresh graduates but only the passage of time will determine the scenario for the coming year. The purpose of an organisation in such times, should be to engage all its stakeholders in shared and sustained value creation.

In creating such a value, an organisation serves not only its shareholders but also all its stakeholders: employees, customers, suppliers, local communities and society at large.

Being the middle children of history and having known nothing about being engulfed in a Great War, these are truly exceptional times that we are living in. But times like these define who we are and who we will eventually be. Historian, philosopher and one of the leading lights of this modern set up, Yuval Noah Harari, has rightly argued that many short-term emergency measures will soon become a fixture of life; and how the nature of emergencies fast-forward historical processes and leaders take long- pending decisions in a matter of hours.

An opportunity is also an anxiety inducing phenomenon for the leaders, policy makers, educators, business leaders. You don’t want to quickly jump into a random bandwagon only to go astray, nor do you want to hold on for too long to miss it all together.

The ‘Zoom’ video app episode that played out this week was a peek into the haste with which the world supposedly elbowed out their competition, only for their security to be compromised on a non-encrypted medium. The app, which gained a mind boggling 200 million users worldwide in March, has now been blacklisted by Space-X and Google,as a result. This brings institutes and businesses to focus on the platform on which the next giant leap will be forged. Innovation and indigenization!

A robust, secured, state-of-the-art, end-to-end encryption based Information Technology network harvested within a system is what will keep it up and running through challenging times like these.

Some studies claim that barely 1 percent of our genetic switchboard is usually switched on. Most of the times, the other 99 percent appears to be switched off. During an emergency such as a landslide or an accident, the sleeping genes are switched on. This explains why some people display great capacity for physical effort during a crisis or extreme challenge. At the risk of sounding prophetic, there is no other ideal time to switch on the other 99 percent not only for the leaders but also in each of us. It is battle of survival and every one of us is in for the long haul.

It is also essential to slow down, take a deep breath and reflect on our daily experiences so that we can visualise what we wish to realise. David’s sling shot is on a well-directed trajectory. It is for us to now wield the shield of knowledge and innovation to brush it aside as a mere projectile and carve the future for humanity.

The author is an academic, author, columnist and director, IIM-Kozhikode

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