Covid-19, Education


While the nature versus nurture debate has been the most reverberating one and echoed by even Thomas Friedman in the backdrop of Covid-19 as a revenge of nature, both Alvin Toffler and Dickens missed to seize on the opportunity to write a utopian futurology or a wonderful yet fictional history. It’s truly a worst of time and yet a time while most people have got lemons thrown at them but some will truly be able to convert it to lemonade which inimitable Irrfan Khan though out of context here failed to do. The pandemic has caused havoc as any other pandemic in the past but the previous ones did not have digital blessing tagged on their tail and didn’t become an object of share market speculation.

Popular Post-Covid Projections

The projections range from utterly destructive to utopian futuristic in different areas of life. Speculations are rife that the world would become digital, bits and bytes will replace fossil fuel, home will replace office and education will be complete from childhood to higher education without any interference of teachers. Efficiency in using digital resources would determine excellence and acceptability in the job market. Artificial intelligence will replace IQ and EQ and social media and web portals will replace all religious scriptures. Journalism formats will change, education format will change and obviously economic patterns and way of living will also change.

The Naysayer

The projections are right in many ways but carry with it many holes in an otherwise watertight argument. First, it has got no nature versus nurture issue as brought out by Shakespeare in one of his dramas. Its pure greed or appetite of people, which forced the spread of virus from China’s wet market. Even in the days of pure Mother Nature, humans had an urge for eating the forbidden. The theory of China starting to develop Coronavirus 30 years ago in a lab is as close to Trumpesque bombardment based on fiction. Most probably China did not have a well-developed virology lab then. Even their Wuhan lab which might be the source by stretching the imagination farthest is not very old and some much respected Non-Chinese scientists including Lancet editor have refused to buy the theory.

Secondly while the world goes digital in terms of education, India has around 13 per cent people with Laptop in home and around 87 per cent people having a mobile phone out of which 67 per cent have internet access and the number is set to dwindle in the days of economic uncertainty. Thanks to the trend of monopolization in Indian telephony, the cost of ‘Digitall’ is set to increase. Delhi University and University of Hyderabad, the two urban and among the very best universities in the country found out very recently that majority of students cannot access digital education for financial reason. Private university students do not face this as they are full of money but with the boat of white collar jobs set to tumble in the days to come, fate of private education in India is best left to realm of fancy.

The Job Market

Jobs will become fewer not only for less demand in the market, but also the employers have come to know how more work can be done with lowest number of people. Overhead costs would be reduced by keeping employees at home and already robots are being introduced in the BPO sector, which is one of the prime destinations in India for fresher. Some distinguished commentators speculate that top notch will suffer the most. Rather it would be the middle rung at the corporate sector which would suffer the most. For a student of media, it means a great opening for the greenhorns as there would be an editor and all foot soldiers below. No deputy, associate, assistant, national, foreign editors. It’s the era of WhatsApp, Facebook page-based journalism which needs no editing. Youngsters, just out of the college, are enough and five can be employed for the salary of one deputy editor. Of course one must remember that not a single news portal till date in India has made any profit but TV Channels and newspapers would follow the above mentioned model.

Economic disparity for which India is globally known and stands at the lowest level of income distribution indicators will further widen. Except for Government employees constituting 1.4 per cent of the total workforce, all others will have their neck out under the advancing guillotine of profit-maximization model. Any corporate house having run successfully for 5 years with non-rented resources unlike the aviation sector can always bear loss for six months at least but Trump model forbids that. Already labour laws are being flouted and blue-collar workforce is asked to work for 12 hours.

Is Digital Education the Future?

Finally, education otherwise also remains a distant dream through digital platforms even in the US of America. If it were possible, Western private universities, especially the Management schools would have long back shifted to that though in strictest sense of the term, even management schools there do not operate like a typical corporate house. There is no alternative to teacher at any level of education as yet and digital resources need to be interpreted. Even in Delhi University, as admitted by one of their teachers, 40 per cent of the students can only manage exclusively English language based teaching and rest depend on bilingual discussions inside the classroom. Most digital resources follow the global route of business and obviously written in English. There was never a shortage of resources even before the digital era. It was always the paucity of intellectual mind to interpret that. Even now, best journals cannot be accessed by all and most of the things available for free are self-claimed pieces of authoritative knowledge Digital won’t be able to replace RCT for which Abhijit Binayak Bandyopadhyay got Nobel equivalent and laboratory can’t be brought home, neither human nor physical. Let’s be fair enough to consider Covid-19 as a crisis of imagination which has killed thousands in the developed West and not be allowed to cripple our minds in the East.

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