The rapid shift to teaching and learning activities online prompted by closure of schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic is only a "short-term response" and we need to fundamentally reimagine schools as a resilient system which can function under continuous turbulence, according to Infosys Chairman Nandan Nilekani.
Classroom should not be the only location, teacher the only facilitator and textbook not the only medium, is the roadmap laid by Nilekani for a "resilient" school system while delivering the keynote address at a virtual conference on 'Future of Schools: Overcoming COVID-19 challenge and beyond' organsied by Ashoka University.
"The rapid shift to move everything online, zoom classes, teaching through smart phones, all of this is part of a short-term response which was necessary but not sufficient. We need to fundamentally reimagine schools, build a resilient system strategically detailing how are we going to deal with the turbulence for next few years," said Nilekani, who is also co-founder of EkStep Foundation.
The foundation extends learning opportunities to Indian children through a collaborative, universal platform that facilitates creation and consumption of education.
"A resilient system is something in which we are able to function even when there is turbulence outside, it is like a ship sailing through a stormy sea and resilience has to be thought through. A lot of time has been spent on making things efficient, dealing with things which we could not anticipate," he added.
Noting that the COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis that has affected everybody, he said it is an unprecedented disruption and we have to now strive for education excellence in a "seismic era".
Nilekani said our traditional reflexes to a disaster are now paralysed and the domino effect of the pandemic will be felt for years.
"We did not anticipate a crisis of this magnitude. The actions being taken for dealing with the pandemic are being done under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, which was enacted in response to the tsunami which happened an year earlier. Our traditional reflexes are paralysed and the domino effect will be felt for many years.
"Unlike other disasters which have a certain time frame, like you can fix cyclone impact, fix tsunami impact...but here we do not know that how long will this go on and we must be prepared that we will have to coexist with this for many years. This is not a bad dream from which we will wake up in a few days, this is a new reality," he said.
Revisiting the basics, decoupling schooling from schools, ensuring trust of students and parents with alternative teaching methods and ensuring all learners have access to learning, were among the focus areas outlined by Nilekani for schools.
How do we ensure that there is no physical interaction but still trust is maintained between teachers and students or parents? We need to develop the ability to deal with different children with different speeds, mentoring them while maintaining the quality of learning and teaching and how to ensure there is inclusivity.
"We need to be able to virtualise space so that schooling can be done from anywhere. Schooling beyond school, learning beyond classroom and playing beyond playground should be our motive when we look forward to synchronizing teaching learning experience ...it should no longer be about proximity," he said.
Universities and schools across the country have been closed since March 16, when the Centre announced a countrywide classroom shutdown as part of a slew of measures to contain the COVID-19 outbreak. A 21-day nationwide lockdown was announced on March 24, which came into effect the next day. While the government has announced easing of certain restrictions, schools and colleges continue to remain closed.
"Students should not be bound by limited time hours. How do we facilitate on demand teaching as well as on demand learning also needs to be looked into. Children should have access to teachers beyond school hours and learning should be made flexible and usable," he added.