Online transformation of all sectors has been gradually occurring for many years. However, due to COVID-19 pandemic, the indispensability of going digital has never been as crucial as it is now for mankind. Every sector is drastically adapting to the virtual world, including the education sector where the recent surge in digital education has shifted to how the system operates, for better or worse.  

Around the world, students work hard to plan a better future for themselves. They keep exploring varied facets of skill and knowledge they can invest in so that they get to build a better tomorrow. But all their plans for the future have been drastically cut short with the onset of the pandemic . Institutions were ordered to shut down and lockdowns were imposed to mitigate the transmission of the Coronavirus. 

With the vaccine not available until far into the future, the academic session had to be continued and online education became the norm overnight. But, are students able to get accustomed to the new norm is the million $ question. We have surveyed students across different grades and different situations and, not surprisingly, found that the student community is divided over this. While some have embraced the digital way of learning, others are strongly against it. 

Students who have easy access to good quality technology and high-speed internet are more in favour of digital education than those who do not. These students find this method of teaching more flexible than the traditional way of classroom teaching. It is also very conducive for those who prefer self-learning or have to manage extracurriculars and/or internships. With graphics and animations being included, students are able to better understand concepts taught and better comprehend the significance of those concepts. Thus, with access to a multitude of materials including videos, photos, virtual on-hand practice and eLabs, teaching has become more comprehensive. 

However, the flipside to online education is how it impacts students who do not have access to virtual learning. In India, around 53 million people are living in extreme poverty, with 68% of the population living on less than $2 (146 INR) a day. Where managing two meals per day is difficult, there is seldom a chance of acquiring expansive/expensive technologies for virtual learning. Thus, a section of the student community is crippled with no access to technology because of circumstances. Adding to lack of accessible technology is the dearth of other resources such as internet connectivity with good bandwidth, continuous power supply and a personal living space for uninterrupted study, due to various reasons. 

Virtual classrooms also tend to make students feel a weaker sense of connectedness and belonging than in physical classrooms. Students who struggle in physical classrooms are likely to struggle even more online. The lack of a favourable learning environment intensifies anxiety in students, deteriorating their mental health. Therefore, there is a need for the government and institutes to look into the state of under-priviledged students as studying might not be their only commitment during this pandemic. 

The division of opinion is not limited to students only. Teachers, too, are divided with some appreciating the shift to virtual learning while others are not happy with it. “It has changed the way teaching is understood and carried out. In the words of one faculty member : “ It enables me to reach out to my students more efficiently and effectively through chat groups, video meetings, voting and also document sharing. My students also find it is easier to communicate digitally with me”  

But many senior professors in colleges or universities feel frustrated with the digitalization of education. They cherish their chalk-&-duster system , claiming it to be far better than e-teaching where there is no scope for value added education. The unplanned and rapid move to online tutoring, with little to no training and with unavailability of pre-recorded video lectures, has left one with almost no idea on how to make online sessions interactive and productive. It results in overall poor performance from both sides. 

Teachers have to work more to create digital content which is an added burden to their daily lives. But they also accept the fact that if this pandemic had happened two decades earlier, the whole education system would have come to a complete halt. So, having internet facilities has given the world a better fighting chance during this crisis. 

Digitized education is inevitable. It is not because we are undergoing tough circumstances but It is due to the revolutionary changes happening in e-learning systems and technologies related to it that have brought it into actuality. Without second thoughts, it may be assumed that digitised education is the future and the way to go. While this alternative method of classroom learning is not convenient for everyone, what we can do is to come up with collaborative solutions, transforming virtual classrooms into a more dynamic, creative, and interactive environment.

-Written and curated by Nayan Jyoti Narzary and Snehdeep Kumar