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Education sector: Digital is the future post coronavirus

With uncertainty looming large over the future of the global economy in the aftermath of the Coronavirus pandemic, there is widespread speculation in India too on its possible impact on various sectors with far-reaching implications on GDP, unemployment and inflation.

Economists are expecting the maximum impact on sectors such as oil and gas, automobiles, MSMEs, aviation, agriculture, retail as also travel and hospitality.

While there would hardly be a sector that would remain unaffected by the crisis, there is a perception that some evergreen sectors catering to the fundamental requirements of the people such as pharma, FMCG and education would not be impacted as much.

There cannot be a more faulty understanding of the situation than this. The shortfall in liquidity and purchasing power coupled with inflation and layoffs would certainly influence the education sector too no less.

To begin with, all major entrance examinations for engineering, medical, law, agriculture, fashion and design courses have been postponed leading to anxiety among parents and students who are now adopting a wait and watch approach. This, in turn, has already started ringing the alarm bells, particularly in private sector universities. Many universities have already gone in for salary cuts of faculty and employees and even contemplating retrenchments in anticipation of the recession while the better ones have put on hold bonuses and increments.

Another major concern is whether governments, both state and Central, will succumb to populist demand for a fee waiver which in turn would severely impact the paying capacity of many players in the private sector, which is today catering to a sizeable section of the students in the country.

The lockdown has not only led to uncertainty over the exam cycle, the universities are already feeling the impact in terms of the slowdown in student internships and placements as also lower fee collection, which in turn is creating hurdles in managing the working capital.

With events aimed at attracting prospective students and student counselling operations coming to a grinding halt, the educational institutions are also apprehending higher attrition levels and lower conversion rates among the applications received so far.

The diversification and expansion plans of several institutions too have suffered a major setback with construction activities coming to a standstill and en masse labour migration. Many have frozen their faculty hiring plans for existing vacancies thereby affecting quality and excellence for which students pay a higher fee.

The silver lining among the dark clouds predicting a recession bigger than the one seen in the aftermath of the Second World War is that telecom is among the handful of sectors expected to do well with increased data consumption and concepts like study from home and work from home likely to become the new norm in the Post Corona era with lockdowns in many countries expected to be lifted only in a phased manner.

Edutech or education technology is another sector that is looking forward to a brighter future with universities and educational institutions expected to jump on to the bandwagon in a big way for online platforms to ensure learning never stops.

How are the Indian universities coping up with the new situation? A recent report quoting Sharad Mehra, Chief Executive Officer, Global University Systems (GUS) – Asia Pacific said education of around 300 million students have been disrupted globally owing to the closure of educational institutions.

“Adoption of tech-led holistic solutions can help tide over the challenge and keep the classes going without a halt”, he says adding “what could have taken five years may now probably happen in 30 days”.

If education on the go is a new reality, the moot question is whether Indian educational institutions and above all Indian teachers, who have been following the traditional classroom method and using smart classrooms more as a fad, are willing to take that big leap? If so, the biggest and foremost challenge is the Training of Trainers (ToT).  Many universities such as Pearl Academy and the University of Petroleum and Energy Studies have taken the lead in conducting training programmes for their faculty through Zoom technology.

The efforts have started paying dividends with Pearl Academy reporting 1300 classes online involving over 300 faculty members and engaging over 3300 students while UPES taught 10,000 students online with the support of over 450 faculty members in the last couple of weeks alone.
Some of the emerging technologies in the education sector include Flipped Classrooms, Active Learning Classrooms, MOOCs, Collaborative Distance Learning Environments, Online Assessment and Grading, Collaborative Forums, Wikis, Blogs, Gamification, Learning Management Systems and EBooks. (MR, Inputs: Agencies).

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