Change in the Educational System; will it be for the ‘better’?

S Maxwell Lyngdoh

Shillong, May 30: There is a need to understand the impact of online learning on our students with regard to future learning and assessment. The core question arising at this moment is whether this pandemic is bringing in a change in our educational system. If yes, up to what extent? And how welcoming are we for this change? The writer was able to interact with some of the city’s renowned academicians which included Sr. (Dr.) Mary Harriet, Principal, St. Mary’s College, Shillong, Lamonte Adrian Pariat, Principal, Hill Crest Higher Secondary School, Shillong, Dr. Anjalee Shangpliang, Associate Professor, Lady Keane College, Shillong, and Dr. Abir Suchiang, Assistant Professor and Assistant Registrar i/c, English and Foreign Language University, Regional Campus, Shillong, Meghalaya. The key points included in this discussion are:

1.            Understanding our students:

Amongst other initiatives taken by educational institutions across the State, understanding the students and wearing their shoes may become imperative at this juncture. Lamonte is of the opinion that “as an academician, especially as we go through this lockdown and online classes, I feel we teaching-learning need to re-asses our knowledge of the students and take a different look into the teaching-learning process of the students and re-think on shaping our curriculum more towards the evolved learning pattern and incorporating innovative concepts in the learning process so that the educational system is more hands-on and practical for making one: future-ready”. While agreeing with this, Sr. Mary went on to add that the teachers should be committed to the overall well-being of the students and the relationship between the students and the staff should be cordial and the love should be vice versa.

Dr. Anjalee stated that understanding students have been an issue that has been doing the rounds in every education policy and planning. It has been frequently pondered on “how students would benefit well and what would be the best education to help students cope with challenges. Unfortunately, our education system is very exam-oriented and therefore there is hardly any time left for extra-curricular activities but to complete the syllabus. This could be the reason why students, in general, are not doing well in their studies which is apparent in the examination results. Hence, honestly, we have not been able to cater to the actual needs of the students. And if you ask me what is the need of the students? Firstly give the students room and avenues to choose subjects of their liking and interest and not compartmentalize the choice of subjects”.

In a similar context, Dr. Abir states that “every effort can be made by the academicians and institutions to ensure they understand their students better. This is one of the priorities of every institution, i.e., to give emphasis to their students. Teaching is one profession where students and teachers coordinate and share their views and deliberate for a congenial environment for learning. To sum up, if a teacher does not understand the student then learning cannot be effective”.

2.            Future learning:

It leaves everyone with a difficult task while trying to perceive the effectiveness of learning (at present) and how it will connect with retaining what the students have learned. Would online learning facilitate students to be able to relate better to topics, subjects/papers in the later years? Lastly, would translating knowledge – theory into practice be easy when the students face the world of work? These are some of the questions that are crossing the minds of stakeholders in the field.

Dr. Anjalee mentions that “the present online system of study leaves the children with a lot of skills; either not taught at all or not being imparted in the correct manner- as they could have in a normal classroom. Retention of what they have learned is strengthened by their actions and getting involved in the whole learning process. Relating what they have learned to practical implementation is the next step of learning and being able to analyze and put it into an application is what makes the whole learning process more meaningful. When this learning process is compromised, the academic growth of a child would definitely be affected and this will reflect in the next academic year and consequently as they move into their professional arena. The lower the class, the more prominent this effect is visible in children”.

Sr. Mary is of the opinion that if the quality of education is not up to the mark, it would certainly affect the future life of the students. Lamonte’s take on this topic is somewhat different. He believes that “how much of what has been learned will vary in terms of the methods practiced by different institutions. About putting theory into practice, it would be difficult to review and weigh because it would depend first of all on an individual student and second of all on conditions available to the student to be able to put in practically”.

3.            Existing challenges:

According to Sr. Mary, the three common problems expressed by her students in the college are connectivity, health issues due to stress, and financial problems. Some of the key points highlighted by Dr. Anjalee in relation to this point are: “There has not been a class when students do not find it difficult to connect or attend the classes smoothly without disruption. Many students of low economic backgrounds cannot afford to have a personal device for online classes. They not only have to share it with their siblings for studies but are mostly at the disposal of their parents, the only family possession. The pandemic situation has sadly made the parents feel that education is no longer a primary need for the family especially those with many children and therefore their focus has become economy and survival through jobs or domestic help”. One of the biggest challenges, she added is a mental and emotional imbalance in such times of crisis. The Mental well-being of the students does have an impact on their education and if not addressed quickly would lead to frustrations and even suicidal feelings”.

When it comes to issues at the school, Lamonte shared that “With the junior classes, keeping the parents motivated to guide their children and helping their children learn in the proper manner is a big challenge for the teacher, the parents would eventually do the work for their child and this would defeat the purpose of such activities and would become a problem for the teacher at the time of assessment. Another problem that students complain about is the inability to download certain files or data because their devices are not compatible or they do not have enough data pack and staying online is expensive”.

Dr. Abir, however, concluded about the harsh reality of the present educational system by suggesting that “The online mode is here to stay even after the pandemic. We are living in a digital age and to be digitally literate is a requirement and an asset to all irrespective of students or parents. Digital age literacy which is one of the 21st-century skills is a major part of the foundation of improvement processes in the education system which many countries have adopted and incorporated”.

4.            Messages to the parents and students:

Sr. Mary’s message to the parents – “Home is the first place for learning; continue to impart moral values to your children. Have patience with your children and spend time with them. Most importantly, advise your children whenever necessary. Don’t nag or ridicule them”.

“This worldwide pandemic has taught us all different lessons. We should learn intelligently from these important lessons and embrace the challenges that come along – propelling ourselves forward in our pursuit of learning and educating ourselves. As parents, our children are our future and their happiness is our happiness, and therefore motivating them to grow physically, mentally, emotionally, and academically through these lockdowns and online classes should be our priority. For students, this pandemic has taught us that this world is a small planet and as technology advances, we are becoming closer and closer to each other – as someone has termed it, we are now living in a ‘global village’. Our challenges and pursuit in life have now also become global. I encourage each child to keep an open mind and think globally while keeping our actions practical and grounded. Remember, that your primary aim in life is to become a better person and a better citizen of our country and the world” says Lamonte.

“There is still a light at the end of the tunnel… but it is up to us to reach the end to enjoy the light… We are all stakeholders of our educational institutions and if we are not sincere and responsible, we have no one to blame but us. Let us all be proactive in creating a difference in uplifting the education scenario and not be complacent because the development of a nation is judged by the state of its education,” Dr. Anjalee added.

(The writer can be reached at maxwell.lyngdoh@gmail.com)