“All of us felt that ed-tech is a helping hand to make things easier but not necessary. However, in the last 30-40 days education has gone through technology disruption. The power and utility of technology are now well established in education. It just cannot be avoided anymore, it is a necessity.”
“In our mythology, we have Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the integrator), and Mahesh (the disruptor). Every disruption is followed by a new creation. We all should be full of hope that the world will be a better and brighter place after this.”
In this interview with CollPoll team, Shr. Kunwar Shekhar Vijendra, Chancellor – Shobhit University and Co-Chairman, ASSOCHAM-National Council on Education accepts that ed-tech was neglected for a long time. Join us in this candid conversation with him on the role of education technology, challenges ahead and most importantly the human side of technology.
Enough has been said and written about education technology during the COVID-19 pandemic. What is your judgement – is it just another fad or do you see some merit?
When we ventured in higher education 30 years back, there were very limited opportunities in education technology. Slowly new initiatives came up.
All of us felt that ed-tech is a helping hand to make things easier but not necessary. However, in the last 30-40 days education has gone through a technology disruption. The power and utility of technology is now well established in education. It just cannot be avoided anymore, it is a necessity.
Most Institutions are experimenting with different solutions. Also, many technology companies have mushroomed in this space. The use of education technology will continue and not fade out. However, the nature and scale of usage will be decided in the coming 1 to 2 years. We are just getting started!
What initiatives have been taken by Shobhit University to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 pandemic?
As shared with you earlier, we initially looked upon technology as just another value addition which was not necessary. Thanks to people like you who have persistently advocated use of technology to us, and helped us understand its value better. I will not say that we were far ahead of others but we did have an early start. We had started using technology effectively in a slow and steady way much before this pandemic unlike others.
The first challenge this lock-down posed in front of us was engaging the students while they are away from the campus. Secondly, we had to continue the academics. Lastly, we had to keep up with new initiatives and processes being followed by other institutions.
During this current crisis, we have seen the biggest experiment in the world of teaching-learning. Technology came to our rescue. CollPoll platform, which is still in its initial implementation phase at Shobhit University, was immediately adopted by faculty members with support from our administrative teams. On CollPoll’s Learning Management System, students can access lesson plans, learning material, and submit assignments. Our mid-term exams have started last week and are going to be successfully completed soon.
We have continued using multiple other platforms like Phone calls, WhatsApp, Facebook and Google Hangout, among others to ensure seamless connectivity within all the stakeholders. Various technology options are being explored for the end-term for which the final decision will be made after the guidelines from regulatory bodies are received.
Initially, we all were worried about the success of these technology initiatives. I have always believed, even the best technology platforms will fail if the internal stakeholders of an institution do not have the right attitude and mindset. “Yes, I can do it!” attitude is a must. Again, I must congratulate CollPoll team that in our case you have done a commendable job in supporting our faculty members and administrators.
COVID-19 has brought the digital divide in education to the spotlight. Not all the students have laptops or their own smartphones. We cannot leave such students on their own. How can we address this critical issue?
You are absolutely right. This is the biggest issue in adopting education technology our country is facing. We cannot leave even a single student behind.
We have two Institutions – one is a Deemed University in Meerut and another University in small town of Gangoh in Saharanpur. In both the campuses, a substantial number of students come from rural areas. The challenge is not just the availability of devices but the connectivity also. Even some of the metropolitan cities like Delhi have connectivity issues. There are social challenges too. Some families do not allow children, especially girls, to have a mobile phone.
I will not say that we have been able to solve this problem completely but we have come out with simple yet effective initiatives. For e.g. those who may not to be able to connect to live classes, we are sharing the recorded lectures with them on whatsapp individually. We are finding out which students are co-located in the same village or locality, and suggesting them to help each other while maintaining safety.
Many faculty members are feeling challenged. They are not used to facing the camera or teaching from their homes where the environment is very different than a classroom. This cannot be ignored. What can be done to bring them to speed?
I feel these are temporary challenges. The problem of availability of a private space at home to teach online or lack of confidence or even ego problem with some senior faculty members will get addressed with time. First, we have to transform our minds. Earlier, a teacher will stand inside the class to teach what he/she wanted and in the way he/she wanted. Only teaching was measured and valued, not the learning.
I have a habit of seeing the silver lining in the cloud. In my opinion, a paradigm shift has happened – now not only the students are learners but even the administrators and faculty members have to become learners. With online learning comes transparency and accountability. Now, the faculty members have to become more conscious of the quality of their teaching and the learning material being used.
At the same time, all the education leaders must focus on appropriate training, regular & timely motivation and extending resources such as devices to their faculty members to ensure smooth and continued use of education technology even after this pandemic.
Given the uncertainty of how long this lock-down may continue, what is your advice to education leaders on being prepared for the future?
I think this uncertainty is going to be around for some time. As you may know, some of the best global higher education institutions have declared their fall semesters as fully online. I don’t think this is going to happen in India but blended learning will definitely be there. If any institution feels they will not be impacted, they must open their eyes and accept the reality.
Keeping this in mind, here is my advice to fellow education leaders:
Keep your students engaged with quality educational content. Invest in a good learning management system.
Motivate & enable the students for self-learning and utilising this time for up-skilling. Getting good jobs may get even tougher.
Consider exploring online examinations to ensure timely academic progression.
Rather than a single entrance examination, may be we can consider over-all school performance of a student to offer provisional admissions. This will help address the anxieties most parents have right now.
Launch counselling helplines to address any kind of mental pressure or anxiety your students may have.
Many practitioners in industry may lose jobs because of the economic downturn. We should proactively reach out to them and leverage their experience in imparting skills to our students.
Thank you sir for taking out time to have this conversation with us. We will love to have your closing remarks.
In our mythology, we have Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the integrator) and Mahesh (the disruptor). Every disruption is followed by new creation. We all should be full of hope that the world will be a better and brighter place after this.
We all are experiencing 6 Cs:
Curiosity to know and learn more, Courage to face this pandemic, Compassion for others, especially the Corona Warriors who are at the forefront fighting this threat, Commitment to keep moving ahead despite the odds, Collaboration both socially and technologically, and finally Calmness to deal with all kinds of challenges patiently.
The world is going to change. The focus will go back on the fundamentals – healthcare, agriculture, public infrastructure and research, among others.