The myths of online education

Understanding the challenges of online teaching and learning

Myth of online education

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted all parts of our lives. In the case of schools, colleges and institutions of learning, it has become vital to look for alternative ways of functioning to help students maintain a continuity in their learning. Around the world, institutions of learning have come up with Information and Communications Technology (ICT) based learning options. 

For school-going children in India, ICT-based learning is not a thorough or effective solution. Recent studies from around the world have demonstrated that digital, online learning solutions are pipedreams given the lack of adequate digital infrastructure and access for underprivileged groups. Teacher preparedness is also limited. There is serious reason to believe that digital and ICT-based online learning models are enmeshed in commercial interests and a preference for market-based solutions. 

Our study

Our Field Research Group at the Azim Premji Foundation undertook a study covering 1,522 teachers (in 1,522 schools) and 398 parents in the public school system across 26 districts in five states. These schools have more than 80,000 children from the most disadvantaged geographies across India. 

Our study tried to understand the difficulties faced by public school children and teachers in negotiating online learning solutions that was were adopted in a hurry since April 2020. The study used survey tools that were implemented through telephone discussions with teachers and parents across public schools in five states – Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan (online teaching) and Karnataka and Uttarakhand (not using online teaching).

We found that there was poor digital access for children and families, inadequate and very minimal teacher-learning processes, and an insufficient knowledge of digital platform in teachers, who were offered little training or support. State departments appear to have recognised their shortcomings with initial misadventures, and are beginning to create more direct interactions with public school children with teacher visits and community-based classes. Parents are willing to send their children to schools given proper norms of safety and health. This indicates a need to open public schools as early as possible. 

This study endorses the more recent initiatives by the state education departments to encourage and facilitate direct conventional learning modes with active teacher-student interaction in physical settings. It also suggests a phased reopening of schools with provisions for health and the well-being of children and teachers. 

Access of parents and children to smartphones
Children in regular classes30,511
Children for whom smartphone easily available for online classes8,650
Average no. of children for whom smart phone easily available for online classes (%)32

Key Findings

Online learning opportunities are ineffective in providing any actual education.

  1. Responses of overwhelming majority of the teachers show the complete inadequacy of delivering meaningful education through the online mode.
  2. More than 80% teachers expressed the impossibility of maintaining an emotional connect with children in this mode.
  3. More than 90% teachers responded that no meaningful assessment of children’s learning was possible in online classes.
  4. Almost 50% teachers reported that children were unable to complete assignments shared during online classes, which in turn led to serious gaps in learning.
  5. The data collected on both the frequency and duration of online classes suggests inadequate time spent with children for their learning.
  6. Parents have, likewise, echoed their own dissatisfaction with 70% being of the opinion that online classes are not effective for the learning of their children.

Almost 60% children cannot access online learning opportunities.

Teachers in the implementing states reported that out of 30,511 children who attended regular classes, only 11,474 were actually attending online classes. On an average, 42 per cent of children were attending online classes across the schools surveyed. This means that around 60 per cent of children cannot access online learning opportunities.

Reasons for this varied from absence of a smartphone, multiple siblings sharing a smartphone, difficulty in using apps for online learning. The issue of access is further exacerbated for children with disabilities. Among teachers of children with disabilities in their regular classes, more than 90% found them unable to participate in online classes.

Parents have overwhelmingly supported reopening of schools with the necessary safety protocols.

Almost 90% of the parents were willing to send their children to school with necessary health safeguards. Close to 65% were of the opinion that schools, when they reopen, would not pose a problem for their children’s health.

In a 45-minute class, half the time goes in saying hello-hello” as the network is bad and girls cannot hear properly and keep saying, Madam, theek se sunai nahi de raha hai” It is very difficult to teach even with these four girls; I do not know how it would be if all the students connected to the class.’

Teacher, Raipur, Chattisgarh

Online learning opportunities are ineffective in providing any actual education

Teachers shared their concerns about maintaining the emotional connection with children during the online classes. 

It is mostly one-way communication; we make PPTs and share pictures and videos. But it is difficult to know how much children can follow. It also feels bad that majority of the students are not able to participate in the class. We do not know what will happen to those children.’ 

-Teacher, Raipur, Chhattisgarh

Parents were also asked about the suitability of online classes for their children. In the implementing states, around 70 per cent parents expressed that they did not find online classes suitable for their children and in the non-implementing states, more than 50 percent of parents shared that they felt that online classes would not be suitable for their children.

An urgent need to reopen schools with safety protocols

It is hardly surprising that in a context of existing inequalities of access in terms of provisioning for basic school education, and the socio-economic differences that underlie such inequalities, online teaching-learning solutions would lead to furthering of such inequalities in school education.

This study, overall, is in alignment with other such recent studies and underscores the severe problems that online learning solutions generate for the public school children across states.

These are in terms of abysmal access of poor families and children to online learning options, the ineffectiveness of online teaching-learning to provide substantive learning opportunities, and inadequate preparedness of teachers for online teaching. Fortunately, many of these initiatives have since then been rolled back and state education departments have begun to endorse more context-based, direct teaching learning solutions. This also resonates with the finding of the study that indicates that parents are both dissatisfied with online learning solutions and eager to have their children back in school with necessary safeguards for their health and well-being.

The study, therefore, points to the urgent need to reopen schools in a phased manner with adequate provisions for the health and safety of both children and teachers in the public school system. It also suggests the need to adopt context-based, direct teaching-learning solutions with the physical presence of teachers during the transition period of the reopening of public schools.

Download the full report here