By Ahaan Chhatwal, Aisha Naik, Gayatri Sharma, Jaimaan Singh Monga, Mansi Khetan, Mrigaanka Sharma, Nysa Kaur Anand, Pragya Sharma & Riddhi Khosla
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced schools in India to shut down, giving rise to a new education system completely based online, where assemblies are not conducted in school-halls but through webinars, group activities aren’t pursued across wooden tables but instead in virtual break-out rooms, and school isn’t disrupted by heavy rains but rather a bad internet connection. The advent of this new lifestyle brings along several opportunities and drawbacks for schools and students across India, each responding to this change in a different manner.
Through data collected from a poll filled out by more than 100 high school students pursuing the ICSE or CBSE curricula at private schools across Mumbai and Delhi, this article draws inferences regarding the situation for the students during the closure of schools as a consequence of the pandemic. The survey's objective was to understand both how students are personally adapting in terms of their lifestyle, study patterns, and efficiency, as well as try to gauge from them how their schools are adapting and what measures they are taking. While a third of the respondents are Grade 11 students, nearly two thirds of the survey results represent the opinions of Grade 12 students.
The poll was centred on 9 questions across 5 areas spanning the full gamut of online education, gauging learning, experience, organisation, assessment, and the overall impact on students. Each question had 4 statements that voters could indicate agreement or disagreement with, reflecting the multifaceted responses schools and students have had to the current situation.In line with the Janeček method of voting, the respondents were given 2positive votes and 1 negative vote for each question, allowing for a clear image of their opinions to emerge.
It can be inferred from Figure 1 that students consider the following aspects of learning new information to be affected by online schooling in the given order (most affected to least affected): absorption, internalisation, clarification, retention, and application. These results allow for the conclusion that the lack of face to face interaction limits a student’s ability to understand new concepts, possibly because the primary phases of knowledge acquisition require the maximum effort and concentration which is difficult to meet over a virtual interface. The reason behind one’s inability to reach the expected level of focus can be attributed to one’s low proficiency with the online platform, or perhaps even the lack of sufficient online learning tools to meet one’s needs.
It is important to note that the listed order would be different if a conventional ‘1 positive vote’ system was adapted. For instance, with negative votes eliminated, the order would turn out like this: absorption, clarification, application, internalisation, and retention. Hence, by giving respondents 2 positive votes and 1 negative vote for each question, the survey reaps a more holistic and comprehensive response.
Amongst all the options to choose from for the question “Which aspect of online learning has been most difficult to adapt to?”, not even one was voted against, indicating that all students found it difficult to adapt to the 5 listed aspects to some degree. To begin with, the mode of classroom delivery was rated least difficult to adapt to, followed by the method of online assessment. The aspects that took centre stage, however, were mainly non-academic: in-person interaction with peers and teachers, and extracurricular activities. The transition to virtual learning hence seems to have laid greater emphasis on professional skill development, with one’s social skills and personal skills left in the dark.
The survey allowed us to infer many common experiences and problems faced by students studying in grades 11 and 12. Students have become more anxious and worried about their future due to the constrained activities happening around them. The new type of educational environment has effectively changed all plans and ideas which were made before, and this has made them doubtful and restless about their future.However, some students have taken less time to adjust to this challenging environment than others.
While mental health has not been substantially affected, many have faced a change in their physical well-being. Most students have suffered more strain in their eyes due to increased exposure to screens, whereas students have been wanting to indulge in less physical activities and therefore, have become less physically fit. Havingto adjust to this change, students’ ability and willingness to do work on time has been compromised and are more likely to procrastinate on learning responsibilities. But contradicting this, some have found the increased independence beneficial because it has made them a more accountable learner.
Ostensibly, every school has different policies and procedures to cope with the pandemic and we received many positive responses from students around Mumbai and Delhi. Evidently, most schools have managed to achieve a similar standard of teaching as before online schooling had to come into being. There is sufficient utilisation of online resources and strategic use of all material is widespread. Many schools have successfully adapted or are rapidly adjusting to the new ways of teaching and learning. Most schools have arranged special counselling and fitness activities which have encouraged students to work harder by boosting morale through a physical outlet. Schools have tried to create better interactive sessions replicating the physical communication amongst students.
While most other aspects of the transition have been coped with relatively well, assessment in online schooling arises as an Achilles heel for students and teachers alike; the vast majority of respondents indicating that the credibility of online testing is severely compromised. The most popular remark on this seems to be that there is major potential for improvement. Anecdotally, a deeply entrenched fear is that grade inflation arising from widespread cheating may adversely affect students who chose not to cheat themselves, precipitating a cynical culture where peer pressure dominates. When asked what assessment style students would prefer in the future, it comes as no surprise that project based assessments, the antithesis of the current video proctored system, emerged as the most favourably viewed. Interestingly, open-book online assessments was also a popular option, reflecting a rare streak of optimism that the current process can be improved without a complete overhaul. Nevertheless, the resilience demonstrated by both the student and teacher populations has been admirable.
Online learning has always been a new concept for most schools and teachers. After the pandemic, we have started using online platforms as our main means of communication and learning.We have familiarised ourselves with digital resources and online teaching schools. We are much better prepared for the future in case extraordinary circumstances arise again. A great understanding of online resources is developed amongst most teachers and students. From the massive responses we received, most indicated us towards the development and growth of many individuals which has prepared them towards independence and a flexible learning dynamic. While some have believed this time to have no positive takeaways, most students have progressed and advanced in different ways.
Adapting to an entirely new mode of education wasn’t going to be easy for any of the parties involved - be it students, teachers, or the administration. It is, therefore, highly encouraging to see positive responses from a majority of respondents - particularly where institutional measures are concerned.
Response data indicates that a majority of schools are taking special measures and adapting in order to make optimal use of online mediums. This shines light on the positive impact a negative situation can have. The novel situation has given education and other institutions the opportunity to try new methods, become more flexible and adaptive and be more prepared for similar situations, should they occur in the future. An imperative takeaway, as respondents have indicated, is the increased familiarity with digital teaching tools and resources. While these have been around for a while, they weren’t used to their optimum potential, and their application was definitely under-explored. By using them out of obligation, schools are likely to become more comfortable with integrating online resources into their teaching methods, even after physical school has resumed.
As anticipated, however, students are facing some difficulties - mainly in terms of their physical health and their learning patterns, as elaborated int he article. For better or for worse, students have little choice but to persevere despite these obstacles. This doesn’t, however, mean that these issues can’t be resolved, and conducting surveys to understand students’ needs and work to meet them is a practice that institutions should inculcate. In other words, this is an opportunity to continuously adapt, and strive to make the best of a bad situation. Institutions should seize that opportunity, and strive for the best they can achieve.