Online Learning : Universities just not ready

The coronavirus spread and the subsequent prevention measures which include ‘stay-at-home’ means that Universities have to grapple with the idea of online classrooms. Most of these universities are ill-prepared for online learning or remote classes as their campuses close and their students return home, sometimes to remote areas without internet or proper facilities to continue classes.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a complete lockdown in the country until 14 April as 76 districts in 22 states reported coronavirus cases, the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Delhi-NCR (National Capital Region) and Uttar Pradesh being the worst hit.

India’s main universities have suspended classes until 31 March, with suspensions expected to continue for some time as the virus spreads. But for students to only study online is difficult in India where internet connectivity is costly and a significant problem, particularly in rural areas with slow or non-existent internet access. Students report significant disruptions at home, particularly in overcrowded households.

In India, some authorities are gearing up support for students and universities to shift to online mode.

For example, the government in the southern state of Kerala announced it would provide extra bandwidth across the state while more students are likely to turn to online learning amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

But the shift is not always easy. Sarwadeep Bhatia, VP sales and operations, Digibook Technologies said: “Shifting from face to face teacher training and conventional classrooms to computer-based education in a virtual classroom makes the learning experience totally different for many students.”
Some students can’t adapt to the switch, he notes.

The government’s approach to online education has been guarded. Only the top 100 institutions in India’s National Institutional Ranking Framework are allowed to apply to provide fully online degrees.

The government is currently working on a new national education policy and a draft version describes a significant role for online learning for increasing access to higher education. The policy encourages Indian institutions to develop their own online programmes and suggests some foreign institutions could operate in India.

Free courses

A number of Online education companies are providing students with free access to their courses and programmes because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Online learning giant Coursera said it is helping universities and colleges take learning online, providing affected higher education institutions around the world, including India, with free access to its course catalogue through ‘Coursera for Campus’ until 31 July.

Coursera’s existing ‘Coursera for Campus’ partners include KL University, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, UPES University Dehradun, Shiv Nadar University, NMIMS University Mumbai, and Pearl Academy.

Coursera said it has five million registered learners in India and is adding over 100,000 learners per month.

Bengaluru-based edtech firm Simplilearn is also giving free access to its complete learning platform including its courses, based on machine learning, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and big data, among others, to impacted students. Many other Indian education technology firms have also come forward to offer free access to classes and courses to their users.

Gaurav Munjal, co-founder and CEO of an edtech platform Unacademy, said his firm would support the education system and students in India in every way possible.

“Unacademy plans to bring together their entire network of educators to conduct free live classes for students and help them learn from the comfort of their homes,” he said in a statement.

Source: University World News

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