COVID-19 and the Explosion of Online Learning: Is India Ready for This Digital Transformation?

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Lockdowns across the globe as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic have adversely impacted educational institutions, with over 1.2 billion enrolled students out of classrooms at the moment. The complete shutdown of all schools and universities has effected an unprecedented explosion of online education using virtual classrooms, online resources, and tools of information dissemination, raising pertinent questions about the capabilities of Indian institutions to effectively and urgently adapt to the online mode of learning.

Does India currently have the fundamental ecosystem to facilitate online teaching and innovation in pedagogy in higher education virtual classrooms? Does its previously physical-learning centric approach limit its transition to remote teaching and learning? From the MHRD’s viewpoint, is the ongoing online education entirely an emergency response, and is their effective planning in place for more sustainable and accessible models of e-learning? Given issues of accessibility, internet bandwidth, connectivity, lack of adequate resources as well as several socio-cultural factors, how much online learning is really possible, and does a digital transformation seem feasible? What alternatives can be used to address the issues of mass inaccessibility of online learning platforms and less than efficient internet connectivity? Would a repurposing of existing e-content better position educational institutions, teachers, and students to maximise their learning outcomes in these unprecedented times? What should be the immediate and long term measures to benefit from the opportunity that COVID-19 has presented to the Indian education sector?

Leena Chandran Wadia, Senior Fellow at ORF’s Mumbai Centre, in conversation with education experts Sahana V. Murthy, Associate Professor at Interdisciplinary Program in Educational Technology, IIT Bombay, Dr. Shakila Shamsu, Former Officer on Special Duty (New Education Policy) in Dept. of Higher Education, MHRD, Govt of India, Ashwin Fernandes, Regional Director for QS and CEO for QS IGAUGE Rating System, and Dr. V. Sridhar, Professor at the Centre for IT and Public Policy at IIIT Bangalore, explores the challenges of moving higher education online, the need for improved technological infrastructure, sharing of best online teaching and learning practices and a complete shift towards flexible and outcome-centric learning.

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