Indian Higher Education and the future of Remote Learning

Indian education is one that encompasses a wide variety of individuals, across states and socio-economic barriers. This is true particularly in public universities, which aim to be inclusive and diverse. Therefore, it is important for them to remain accessible to all enrolled individuals, especially now, with a pandemic that is seemingly here to change the way we interact in such spheres.

The sudden enforcement of remote learning due to the pandemic has come with its own set of concerns. The key aspects that worried most individuals were of online education being able to make up for certain crucial facets of offline learning. These include tutorials, practical sessions such as lab experiments and mathematical inductions. While theory aspects are covered to a large extent, students continue to suffer from the sudden shift as practical learning is affected. Many courses involving heavy calculations have seen a decline in quality as the process is one that is harder to understand online. This has been worsened by the fact that some classes have recorded sessions to ensure better quality and to aid individuals having poor internet connectivity.

However, the worst hit are individuals with poor or no internet connectivity, lack of technology and/or individuals with physical disabilities who don’t have necessary equipment provided to them prior to the pandemic in college spaces. These individuals need priority from institutions for equitable resources to avail education as a fundamental right for all.

For remote learning to be normalised, we need to be far from where we are currently. While a possibility and potentially a necessity, institutions and the state machinery need to ensure resources like internet and necessary technology is made available to all enrolled individuals. Without this, the divide between socio-economic classes will only increase with many students forced to drop out or unable to access education any longer.

Another key aspect for normalising remote learning will be to look out for possible solutions to the uncertainty regarding exams and assessments. The past few months have been emotionally draining for students who have had to wait weeks, confused about the status of semester end exams. While most institutes eventually cancelled exams due to lack of resources required, many went ahead with online exams, resulting in multiple postponements, crashing of servers and websites, and many unable to even attempt the exams due to technical glitches and other problems, automatically serving them a failed grade for no fault of their own. These instances will have to be fixed at the earliest for remote learning to be one that is accepted and is stress free for students.

However, as a silver lining for many individuals, remote learning seems to be on its way to make international education now accessible for a much larger sphere. With colleges across the globe going online, this means an opportunity for individuals to avail an education internationally while staying at home is now more possible due to it being more affordable for many; students now will only have to pay tuition charges if accessed remotely, without accommodation, food and other fees.

Moreover, with colleges internationally being accessible to many more, one still has to wait and see if the long run shows us a change in value of higher education as a whole. While this means that many more individuals can now avail colleges internationally, this could mean a number of things in terms of depleting value for domestic colleges in the long run, along with a potential fall in the value of college degrees as it is no longer restricted to only a handful of students. What comes next depends on how institutions treat its students. The best way to move forward seems to be constant feedback both from students and colleges to plan the way forward, together.

"You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty."

– Mahatma Gandhi