Dr Jyotsna Yagnik writes on how digital learning will not attract the youth in a long run, Graphic: Saubhik Debnath
Distance education was a new word then, when for the first time a thought came and implemented by an educator – Sir Isaac Pitman. Somewhere in the year 1840, a shorthand course was taught by Sir Isaac for the first time by mailing texts transcribed into short hand on postcards and receiving transcriptions from his students in return for correction. Who knew in the year 1840 that the world would have universities to impart distance education on such a large scale. Today, when one sees the distance learning center of the open university one does not remember the father of distance learning or distance education.
I was inclined to find out the name of the father of distance learning due to the tremendous spread of digital learning today all around the world and it being the predecessor of digital learning in the education system.
Computers, laptops or smartphones which were purchased only before a few months more as status symbols have overnight become indispensable tools for learning without which digital communication could have been impossible. Today there is a flow of every kind of knowledge from every stakeholder. The digital world has reduced to a visible small village, at times on our social media there is lot of digital noises, national library is at the distance of our fingertips, it is known that there are numerous learning platforms to impart education, but it is seldom noticed that one common platform in every family called, its dining table, has also restarted imparting new learning, unlearning and even relearning family tradition and culture with different degree of emotion,care and affection.
Who says Corona pandemic has only created terror, unrest and discomfort all around rather it has showcased the world’s many important but forgotten legacy of Indian culture out of which one is a newly generated flow of family education from the platform of the dining table of the family.
In the perspective of today, it has been felt by all that there cannot now be any substitute for digital learning and had it not been invented, the world would have reached to halt, a serious pause as far as education is concerned. In my opinion what is constant in the universe is change, transformation. Today’s digital learning is a more purified version of distance learning .
Those who are in the field of education are aware that there was a constant rise in the number of absenteeism of the students in the class rooms. Different attractions like Gym, lovely playground, indoor stadiums, convention centers, lush green campuses of the universities have not proved to be successful to bring down the number of absent students. True that face to face learning and teaching has its own charms, but the takers are decreasing day by day. We have tried to change the patterns of examination, evaluation methods, teaching aids and what not but even then it could not effectively increase the attendance of the students in the class rooms.
The study on the reasons for decline in attendance has shown that though there are no concrete reasons for the students to leave the class rooms, or saying in language of the students… to bunk the classes, the fact remains that there is steady decline in that too. No university or the best or most popular teacher can claim 100 percent attendance of their students in the classrooms and no teacher can be blamed for it.
Every good university attempts all the measures to ensure employing the best teachers, purchasing the best teaching aids and tools and also to create an ambiance where learning becomes fun. In spite of all these it is felt for long that the saturating point has already arrived at or is closed to arrive for the students as far as classroom teaching is concerned.
Some years ago, it was felt that the lecture system is age old and for longer duration, it is counter productive. Then came the stage of shift from blackboard to whiteboard or greenboard, but putting candidly… not substantial change was noticed in attendance of the students in the class rooms. From lecture system to inter participative method was chosen but no notable result. It was then thought that seeing is believing which brought the age of projector, bullet points or highlighting segments in coloured fonts with attractive powerpoint presentations with colorful slides and newly devised fonts or say smart writing but even this transition did not help much.
Coronavirus has added one new chapter in the education system of complete digital learning and today it is held as desirable to impart a minimum 25 percent education by digital learning even after normalcy resumes. However, 75 percent of the syllabus is held to be such which needs to be essentially delivered by face to face learning. Today almost all universities in the world are attempting to complete its course by digital teaching.
In this background, the question which comes up for our consideration is whether this method of learning is more acceptable to the youth for whom the entire exercise of digital teaching is being carried out. If one wishes to answer with the mirror like outcome then it can be answered in affirmative. Every teacher has experienced in its digital classrooms many new, unseen or rarely seen faces for the old roll numbers. These faces of the students seen in virtual classes were not appearing or regularly appearing in the recent past in the routine class rooms.
Even with a lot of efforts those faces were not visible in the classrooms. The pressure which built up by writing letters to parents was not working because the parents might have been helpless to compel their wards to attend the classes. The device of debarring the students on account of their lack of requisite attendance in the classes did not work as well because it was ultimately perhaps costing the parents.
When nothing worked satisfactorily suddenly the digital learning which was started out of compulsion created by the lockdown due to corona pandemic is found to have been working well as observed through the lenses of statistics of attendance of the students in virtual classes. It is observed that the student who has usually not chosen to sit and learn in the four walls of the air conditioned classroom has chosen to sit across the smartphone and laptop.
It is being discussed among teachers that what has worked? Is it a side product of the lockdown, is it compulsion to remain at home, is it facility to choose only audio, is it facility to choose or to start video at one’s desire, is it wearing comfortable domestic dresses and sitting in a comfortable posture in one’s room with freedom of domestic ambience or is it the liberty which every human being likes in which there is freedom to attend the class for a few minutes and to take rest as an when desired.
As it may be, but the fact remains that digital learning has suddenly increased unprecedented figures of 100 percent attendance of the students in the digital classroom. Digital classroom has a benefit of seeing the teacher or only listening the teacher or doing both. It has a facility of unilateral seeing or not seeing the friends or teacher at the digital classroom and still becoming Mr. India of Bollywood (Anil Kapoor fame), it has a chance of seeing everything without being seen and watched by others, it is a beautiful thing, isn’t it?.
Today the importance of digital classroom and digital learning is at such a high peak that many educators have formed their opinion that the days are not far where more than beautiful campuses of universities, beautiful platforms of digital learning and effective teaching aids and tools to reach students digitally will attract and hence will capture the market.
I am of the view that digital learning will remain temporarily an attractive phase in the background of pandemic and lockdown, but it will certainly not attract the youth in a long run as it will lose the temporary attraction it has created. It is like the first week of a routine Bollywood movie or masala movie. Unless a movie has many important packages of messages, morals and mint with it, it will seldom attract an audience in the second week.
We cannot forget that India has the heritage of Gurukul where physically living and learning from gurus has “parasmani”/Midas touch. The body language, eyes, expression, anger, affection, appreciation or even scolding of a teacher cannot be compared with face to face learning. The immense pleasure and apparent benefits of personal teaching of a dedicated and committed teacher can never be replaced. I am sure a day is not far where human beings will crave for digital silence.
The digital noise today in the social media right from good morning messages to the longest article creates a situation where people have found out shortcuts of not downloading or not depositing unwanted messages in the phone to avoid burdening memory of the instruments. I am sure the time will come when students would return back to classrooms, would choose to avoid digital noises, would love to observe digital silence at least for some part of the day to avoid over burdening of the memory of the mind.
All said and done, human touch, human sensibility, comfort between one human being to another human being, affectionate approach, human affinity with humbleness, positive attitude of the teachers will all bring a new dawn, a ray of hope on this mother planet.
The writer, a former Judge, is Pro Vice Chancellor of Adamas University, Kolkata. She has been a former Principal Judge, City Civil & Sessions Courts, Ahmedabad, Gujarat. She has served as POTA, NIA and CBI judge of Gujarat in addition to Special Judge for Serial Bomb Blasts cases, Hooch Tragedy, Riot Cases etc. She has been teaching law for about 34 years and is a former Principal of Law College. She is an Arbitrator, Trained Mediator, Conciliator in International panel of ICADR and Corporate trainer for laws.
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