Exploring Unchartered Territory and the New Frontier: Shifting Transformation of Skills Requirements

Exploring Unchartered Territory and the New Frontier: Shifting Transformation of Skills Requirements

As the pandemic continues to affect the education sector, the large population of educators must continue to adapt to the new normal; the online classroom that is fast becoming the only door to education.


COVID-19 and the latest variant Omicron  continues to seriously impact  India and the world and whatever  path we take now, we must bear in mind that COVID-19 has completely changed the way the Planet "works, rests and plays".(Borrowed from the tagline of MARS Chocolate Bar’s advertising campaign). 


The Education eco-system in India that is massive and consists of about 3 crore students pursuing different courses in over 15 lakh educational institutions- be it Schools, Colleges, Technical Institutes and so on. In person classes have been shut for most of the time due to repetitive Covid curbs. The Covid induced pandemic has posed new challenges for the teachers in terms of loss of students' learning as well as the emotional and mental well being of the students.


The Corona virus pandemic with the latest Omicron variant and the subsequent lockdown has once again prompted Schools, Colleges and Universities to go back to   technology based innovative solutions to devise and establish a pertinent learning environment for all scholars. From attending physical classes in conventional buildings housing schools and colleges we have now moved to online learning in the comfort of our homes. This has ensured that somehow our classes are not disrupted.


Experts predict an entire generation of learners will be forced into online learning as countries including India once again shut down educational institutions to contain this time the spread of the new corona virus variant, Omicron.


It must however be clearly understood that the digital divide has affected our children and youth. Education by way of Digital technology has manifold challenges. Class room teaching in my opinion leads to a more balanced upbringing of the students rather than rote learning or the results in the examinations. Online learning may not be able to fully attain this objective.


We cannot re-write the chapters of history that has gone by, but we can learn from them, evolve and acclimatise. These are changing times in the current global pandemic...and Change is the only constant. Maybe we will have the a new normal that has a long-lasting and permanent impact where we have to challenge ourselves and adjust   as  things will never be the same again.


Transformation due to Digital Technology


What would have been the state of things if this pandemic had hit us 30 or 40 years back when there was no access to digital technology devices like computers, tablets, smart phones and the Internet/Wifi....Visualize this, do you think that you would have been able to sustain yourself?


What Digital Technology has done is more than just furnishing us with newer amenities by enhancing our capabilities. Technology has created a substitute world for us to live in. It is not simply a way of making our lives easier; it allows us to lead new lives in parallel.  Technology had already become an important part of our lives, but today our lives are impacted nearly entirely by technology. Every waking hour and virtually every venture, enterprise or business needs some support of a digital kind.


So far, the transition to virtual learning has progressed well despite the fact that a large number of teachers had no virtual teaching experience before the pandemic – it is a positive end result considering  how quickly the transition to online learning has happened.

However,  if the Corona contagion spreads and becomes the "New Normal", there is a strong possibility that online learning may become more than a temporary measure, forcing Schools and Colleges to shift to online tutoring platforms and methods.


The massive move to online literacy is forcing the education system to figure out how to drive engagement in their courses. This has created a special window for the teaching staff to take advantage of their experience in upgrading the virtual learning system in  educational institutions.


I believe that the present pandemic will force teachers to transform the way they teach, moving from a lecture-listen model to an interactive, learn-by-doing model and I believe we are well suited to capture the wave.


New Outlook and Insights to Upskilling and Reskilling


Growing internet penetration and availability of economically priced smart phones with affordable data packages has created a demand for quality education through various learning platforms.


The abrupt shift to distance literacy directly challenged the knowledge, mindsets, and capabilities of the teachers. The teachers are now required to move up to a high skill set  as the guidelines and expectations change on a regular basis. Given the present conditions, our education system faces the monumental task of preparing teachers for teaching and learning during this year. We can get ideas from organisations outside of educational institutions that can provide value and knowledge in the initial phase.


Why Upskilling Programmes are Important for Teachers?


For Teachers, there is a need for reskilling of new and existing roles.  Parents must also receive training on accessing digital classes for their wards on laptops and smart phones. Counselors are also required to ensure the emotional and mental well being of the students and provide daily instructions on health and wellness. To meet the extraordinary demands of virtual learning, educators will need to think beyond the traditional teacher role to support new ideas and processes on teaching and learning.


Whatever may be, a reskilling of new ideas, thoughts, knowledge, mindsets, and value addition roles will need to occur across all positions. Competencies, proficiency and expertise previously held by Classroom instructors, will require massive training and retraining in the years ahead.


Move Beyond the Classroom with Blended Learning


The Covid-19 epidemic has not spared any one and affected all in every sphere. We  now have Work from Home jobs, Online payments through Paytm/ Google Pay, Online learning in  the Education Sector to Election rallies by political parties to Court hearings and many more and all of these are being conducted online i.e., in virtual mode. Although we are missing interacting, meeting, discussing and socialising in person, this virtual connection through Zoom, Webex, Google Meet, Video Conferencing and other means has helped maintain a sense of community purpose.


 In this New Year amidst this global pandemic of Omicron, Blended Learning is clearly the way forward. In simple terms, Blended Learning is an amalgamation of online and offline learning with the essential requirement of compatible hardware to leverage software application or web-based technology to fulfill the specific learning process.


 Covid-19 has further accelerated the rate at which digital technology is being espoused. Therefore, it is imperative to borrow results that acclimatise well to this mixed tutoring-literacy terrain, where print and digital go hand in hand This amalgamated approach affirms the specific need to include audio-visual rudiments, online appraisal and also allows seamless ingress and entry no matter where, when and anytime - and this  is a boon for both the teachers and students.


From a teachers’ point of view, this system provided through blended learning leads to a rich repository of print and online materials that allows teachers to join forces with  students to create a more connected and reciprocal and engaging learning domain. A blended approach to learning and tutoring also makes it possible to do justice to the theory of cross-practice teaching.


It may be noted that with Blended learning, the content of education changes as much as the mode of communication through which it is conveyed. We have seen that every home has now become a class room where students are learning from their teachers with the help of their digital devices-smart phones, computers and so on. Lessons through the internet have now become alternatives to the text books and work sheets.


Blended Learning is now the New Normal.


Is India ready for Online Education Programmes with the present Digital Divide?


The present Covid-19 epidemic brings out clearly the need to build sturdy online domains to provide seamless learning. However, there are a number of difficulties in the espousal of technology in tutoring, teaching, training and learning.


Poor digital framework is the key challenge in India for scaling up active use of technology in education. There is low access to technology devices such as the internet, wifi, etc. 27% of children do not have access to smart phones and laptops to attend classes in the virtual mode. (NCERT, 2020).Further  84% of the teachers reported facing challenges in delivering learning digitally with close to half of them facing issues related to the internet (Oxfam,2020). Unfortunately, there is no substantial budgetary allocation from the Government on plugging this digital divide and strengthening the digital base.


The Pandemic Challenge


This Challenge of the Covid-19 we will get through, but we must face the fact that this will dramatically change the way the world will “work, rest and play”.


Covid-19 has reinforced our synergy with technology. It has shown us how we can make do fairly well while being forbidden approach to familiar areas and locations in the realty that existed before the pandemic. But it has also underscored how our sensibility and perception is wrapped up in the real world. No matter how self-reliant Digital Technology makes us, we will always need to meet and socialize with people and move away from the present “work from home” situation.


And lastly...We need to restore the class rooms as soon as possible. Online learning can never be the substitute. While Online Learning must not be done away completely, its benefits and uses should be garnered within the domain of the class room. This is where students blossom and connect with their Teachers and Mentors.


Prof. Bhushan Manchanda is a Teacher, Motivational Speaker, Writer, Career Coach, Management Consultant and Strategy Advisor. Presently Associate Professor of Management Studies in Jagannath International Management School (affiliated to GGS Indraprastha University, New Delhi) since last 10 years. He has earlier worked for over 35 years in Senior positions in the Corporate Sector.


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