COVID -19 and Challenges of Online Education in India
| Dr. Sonali Mishra, Special Correspondent, IOP - 08 Jul 2020

By Dr. Sonali Mishra

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the education sector had to move from classroom teaching to online teaching. Even the Government of India has taken several initiatives for providing Online Education, but several challenges are still there. 

Across the world, education has been drastically affected by the COVID-19 pandemic crises.

Online education is being used to bridge the gap in class room education created by the forced closure of all educational institution to control the spread of corona virus amongst the students.

According to an estimate by UNESCO, around 1.26 billion children or 70 percent of children around the world have had their education interrupted because of the pandemic and a large number of these children are from what UNESCO calls the “low tech or no tech” phase, with India contributing 300 million of the 1.26 billion children.

The 'Stay Home' and social distancing orders has spared no one. Students have been caged at their homes since Lockdown 1.0. India has the largest population in the world in the age bracket of 4-23 years which presents huge prospects in the education sector.

Now, most of the companies, schools and institutions have come up with online essentials as their primary mode of teaching. The teachers and instructors are gradually organising online webinars and meetings. 

The major drives for online education in India include growth in Internet and Smartphones, low cost of online education, digital-friendly government policies and escalating demand of professionals for online webinars, seminars, online courses and Workshops, according to the KPMG India and Google.

The Government Initiative taken by Digital India and Skill India are the initiatives taken to spread digital literacy in India.

The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has taken several initiatives to support and promote IT enabled education in the country.

A number of MHRD initiated projects are aimed to assist students, scholars, teachers and lifelong learners in their studies. These initiatives, posted on the MHRD website, cover educational requirements of learners ranging from school to Post Graduate. The introduction of those projects as follows.

SWAYAM ( ) provides Massive Open Online Courses with 140 universities approved credit transfer feature. Students enrolled in Jan-20 & in total are 26 Lakhs & 1.57 Cr respectably. Total 1900+ courses covering school & higher education.

SWAYAMPRABHA( ) provides high quality educational programs 24*7 through 32 DTH channels. Around 56,000 total videos have been telecasted covering school & higher education. It has 3+ crores total views on Youtube since inception.

National Digital Library (NDL) ( ) is a repository of e-content on multiple disciplines from primary to PG levels. It has 4.3 crores content (Text / Audio / Video / Simulation /Graphics), harvested from 250 sources; in 300+ languages. NDL has 55 Lakhs + registered users.

e-Yantra ( ) provides hands on experience on embedded systems. It has about 380 Lab and made 2300+ colleges benefited.

FOSSEE ( ) is acronym for Free/Libre and Open Source Software for Education, which developed, promote open source softwares for education as well as professional use.

Virtual Labs ( ) has developed Web-enabled curriculum based experiments designed for remote – operation. Its 275 labs with 2200+ experiments made 18+ Lakhs students benefitted.

e-gyankosh ( ) is a National Digital Repository to store and share the digital learning resources. Its content developed by the Open and Distance Learning Institutions in the country.

Gyan Darshan ( ) is a web based TV channel devoted to educational and developmental needs for Open and Distance Learner.

Gyan Vani (105.6 FM Radio) & Gyandhara (web radio) ( ).

Gyan Dhara is an internet audio counselling service where students can listen to the live discussions by the teachers and experts on the topic of the day and interact with them through telephone.

DIKSHA ( ) is a National Platform for Our Teachers & all other learner.

Epathshala ( ) provides Free access of e-books ( class I to XII) through website and app.

e-PG Pathshala ( ) is a gateway for e-books upto PG which provides High quality, curriculum based, and interactive content in different subjects across all disciplines.

e-ShodhSindhu ( ) is a collection of e-journals, e-journal archives and e-books on perpetual access basis. It has 10,000+ e-journals, 31,35,000+ e-books.

Shodhganga ( ) is a platform for research students to deposit their Ph.D. theses and make it available to the entire scholarly community in open access Shodh Shudhhi (PDS). ( ) is Plagiarism Detection Software Encourage original information by preventing plagiarism.

VIDWAN( ) is an Expert Database and National Research Network which has profiles of scientists / researchers and other faculty members working at leading academic institution Spoken Tutorial ( is a Tutorial in IT application which provides self-training in IT fields.

NEAT ( ) is an AI adaptive learning portal. This is an initiative for skilling of learners in latest technologies through a PPP model.

SAKSHAT ( ) is one Stop Education Portal for addressing all the education and learning related needs of students, scholars, teachers and lifelong learners.

The portal provides the latest news, press releases, achievements etc related to Ministry of HRD. So visit SAKSHAT to know the world of online learning.

However, the recent surge of online education in India is being seen as the idea of “Emergency Remote Teaching”. Sahana Murthy (Professor, Interdisciplinary Programme in Education Technology, IIT, Bombay, in a recent webinar, however, asserted that there is a difference between emergency remote teaching and effective online learning. She explained that for online teaching, along with the requirement of tools such as online platforms, one needs access as well as trained teachers. She concluded by emphasizing on the importance of changing the mindsets of the teachers as well as students since online teaching only limits to a through a face-to-face lens. One way in which this could be implemented is through the LCM Model, which focuses on a “learner-centric approach towards the designing and conducting of online courses.”

The fact is the recent use of technology for education is not an outcome of the pandemic, but as an idea that has been continuing for several years. The National Mission on Education through ICT was a strong recommendation of the 11th five-year plan. The Satellite Instructional Television Experiment in the 1970s and educational broadcasting that happened over the radio were ways in which technology was used in the field of education, giving “equitable access” to all those learning through those mediums.

The Union HRD Ministry had launched a TV channel for students to take online courses and at present 15 million students are enrolled with it. It also launched a subsidiary direct-to-home channel in 2019, called Swayam Prabha.

However, the reason, why India was not able to transition swiftly, so far, from face-to-face education to remote learning is the lack of institutional preparedness and accessibility by students to the new mode of delivering classes, which still exists by and large.

COVID-19 brought a “second wind to higher education in India,” according to Dr. Ashwin Fernandes (Regional Director – Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, QS Quacquarelli Symonds and CEO, QS IGAUGE Rating).

Dr. Ashwin Fernandes outlines three main reasons for present situation. Firstly, the increased use of technology for various ideas, especially for education, has “instilled confidence for users” Secondly, India has tried to follow the footsteps of UK, US and UNESCO models of online education and lastly it depends on  how both these factors “level the playing field for Indian universities.”

According to Dr. Ashwin Fernandes, “India is currently in Stage 1 of the transition from face-to-face learning to online education, where classes have begun to be taken online. Stage 2 of this transition is where there is “100 percent course delivery online (assessment, grading)” and Stage 3 is where there is complete delivery of course credit online (online degrees).”

More than 80 percent of India’s population use their mobile hotspot for accessing the internet. Out of which, 96 percent of students who used mobile hotspots to gain access to educational resources had problems with internet connectivity, this was revealed in a recent survey, which was focused on whether India was ready for a digital transformation.  

“It was neither easy nor effective initially for the learners, educators, parents and the educational organizations,” says Arti Khosla, CEO- COAE International Pvt. Ltd. while talking to Indian Observer Post in an interview.

According to Arti Khosla, “To achieve the learning outcomes while teaching online, the organizations need to modify their curriculum and courses to suit the teaching pedagogies that are adopted for online education. In fact the online teaching gives more opportunities to the group of learners and educators for communicating with each other in a more effective manner provided the educational organizations sensitize the learners and educators adequately on the basic DOs and DONTs of online education.”

There is also a pressing need to check the timings, of the online education and its impact on the student’s psychology. The back to back classes on the lines of classroom education can create serious mental tension and depression, experts believe. However, in lack of any guidelines from the government or the authorities, the educational institutions are doing it insanely.

Saying that the quality of classroom teaching is monitored through observations and teachers’ evaluation, Arti Khosla suggests that similarly, to judge the quality of online teaching, the evaluator must consider the important factors-

  • Keeping the length of the lectures short to enhance engagement rate of students throughout the lessons
  • Monitoring average completion rates
  • Tracking of the learner’s progress
  • Ongoing assessment of the learning through checkpoints
  • Use of very simple assessments to ensure the retention of knowledge
  • Paying individual attention to the learners
  • Responding to each of their query
  • Building a community of learners by using the discussion/ chat features of the online platforms to spark the discussions

While institutes and enterprising teachers are trying to promote e-learning among their students, those belonging to underprivileged sections or living in far-flung areas are finding it difficult to keep up due to various reasons, including lack of Internet, power supply, knowledge of technology etc.

Many people believe that for India to make an effective shift to online platforms for education, the Government needs to address the power supply and internet connectivity issues as soon as it can, enable a shift in mindset towards online teaching and learning and conduct robust training for faculty and students on ed-tech tools.

There is also a pressing need to issue proper guidelines for institutions, faculty and students to repurpose e-content in a manner that fits into the curricula for achieving the desired learning objectives of that particular course.

Also, it is very essential that e-content should be made available in regional languages.

The Online pedagogical material must be available by universities in centralized manner and following the new blended mode of education we must be ready for the adversity and be prepared for the emergence of a new pedagogic paradigm.

Image courtesy - Sahana Murthy Courtesy - @NextEducationIn / MHRD

Dr. Sonali Mishra (M.Phil, PhD in English Literature) is an Educationist, Author and an Editor; she is a professor in Symbiosis University; has strong teaching and research experience of 17 years. She has Authored Book, Member of Editorial Boards of 3 reputed Journals, and Recipient of several awards.

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