Impact of Corona Virus on Education and Employment - many interesting developments ahead...!

Analysis of how Education and Employment have been affected in India due to COVID-19

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COVID-19 pandemic has affected various industries in India. The impact of the pandemic is unsparing and indiscriminate. All industries, including Information Technology (IT), Solar Power, Telecom, Shipping, Travel & Tourism, Textile, Education, Employment and many other sectors are witnessing a major shift. There is a greater degree of technology adoption for ensuring business operations. Many grocers, typically the neighbourhood kirana stores and mini-super markets, have transitioned to online ordering systems and whatsapp based status updates. What was expected to change gradually is happening instantly? Corona is accelerting technology adoption and this is only set to transform every industry to ehance their technology exposure and use to stay competitive.

In addition to all of this, let us not forget that our educational institutions - Schools, Colleges & Universities are also actively adopting virtual classrooms, examinations, labs. You may be able to surmise the extent of change and importance accorded to technology's role in education when you just take note of 2 events in this past week or so, amidst 100% countrywide lockdown. 

1. Webinar on Virtual Lab in which Vice Chancellor (Dr. RMLAU, Ayodhya) Prof. Dr. Manoj Dixit along with Director (I.E.T., Ayodhya) Prof. Dr. Ramapati Mishra, Prof. Dr. P M Khodke, CPA, NIU and State Project Administrator, SPIU-TEQIP III, Govt. of UP, Dr. Anil Kumar

2. National Seminar on Role of e-Education, a collaborative event organized by Institute of Engineering & Technology (I.E.T.), Dr. Rammanohar Lohia Avadh University, Ayodhya, UP & Dr. Ambedkar Institute of Technology, Bengaluru, Karnataka in which Vice Chancellor (Dr. RMLAU, Ayodhya) Prof. Dr. Manoj Dixit, Prof. Dr. P B Sharma (BoG Chairman) and Director (I.E.T., Ayodhya) Prof. Dr. Ramapati Mishra along with a number of high ranking delegates participated). 

So, what does all of this mean for the future?  

Will Online be the new trend after Corona?

Are educational institutions going to see more and more digitisation efforts?

Will work from home be the new norm?  

Are online classrooms & technology enabled learning already on the agenda? The idea of digital campuses and online education has been prevalent in India. The aim was to gradually increase adoption of edutech for classroom learning & teaching. This unprecedented pandemic resulted in large scale destruction and has caused disruption to normal way of work, living and life standards. This pandemic caused by the spread of Covid-19 virus from Wuhan, China since late 2019; it spread to all over the world especially the US, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, UK, India, West Asia, and almost every other part of the world. The rapid outbreak with no quick-fix solution, in fact with no medical remedy, has also meant a fast-paced focus on possibility of continuing education efforts by leveraging online classes at all levels. Most of them, starting from primary education in schools to higher education level across colleges & universities are conducting classes and giving online-assignments  and evaluating them online as well. But, is it possible to facilitate such examinations in a country like India where all the institutes cannot arrange for digitized education and students might not have basic facilities or internet access? This requires a lot of investment and for this, Government alone cannot be the sole-benefactor. There is a huge opportunity for private sector firms in the realm of financing, infra & technology, research & design and media. Don't miss the excellent webinar event to discuss these very possibilities and potential - register here for the event scheduled for 17th April, 2020 at 11:00 AM to 12:00 PM (IST).

This will bring together Krishna Kumar of Simplilearn, Hindol Sengupta of Invest India, Dr. Manpreet Singh Manna of SWAYAM and Siddhartha Gupta of Mettl while the webinar is going to be moderated / hosted by Shivani Kashyap.

Innovations in the midst of lockdown... Opportunities galore... indeed, a number of universities are providing virtual classes to their students. Amity University, along with online classes and viva tests, is also providing online  Zumba and Yoga classes to help students stay active during the lockdown. Classes are organized through Microsoft Teams or Google Classroom or any others. Urban cities are adapting to the online education system relatively easily. But there are some pros and cons to e-learning. This demands the availability of electricity, constant highspeed internet and smartphone or a gadget for attending classes. However, there can be challenges for this system to reach all sections of society. 

Of course this is all not so obvious & easy. Considering the downsides and constraining facilities and non availability of reliable devices and connectivity, it is reported recently that the University Grants Commission (UGC) appears to be not in favour of conducting online exams yet. The UGC had formed two panels to identify / evaluate possibilities to mitigate the academic loss due to the Covid-19 outbreak. One of the panels headed by Haryana University V-C Dr. R C Kuhad is likely to submit its report on April 13, while the second panel, under IGNOU Vice-Chancellor Dr. Nageshwar Rao is likely to submit a report by April 17. “We have received some serious concerns and various suggestions regarding holding exams, and we are working towards finding a solution,” said R.C. Kuhad in a statement made to The Print while confirming that the committee has submitted its report to the Government on the April 13th, 2020.

India has a great potential for e-learning and it is already one of the biggest subscribers of learning content in the world. Many students and employees take online courses to enhance their qualifications. Increasingly, in the recent past, universities in India are also actively creating learning content along the lines of popular MOOCs. For instance, VIT Vellore, an Institution of Eminence, has begun contemplating offering e-certifications since 2015-16 onwards. Not just that, VIT Vellore has actively pursued this agenda through its setting up of VIT Online Learning (VITOL) Institute, a full-fledged centre with all infrastructure, technology to develop the course content, delivery, evaluation and certification. For more detailed description of VITOL, here is the official VIT's facebook post.

There are always going to be pros and cons and for/against arguments between the choice of options. For instance, one such argumentative article is here for your reference titled Is it books versus or vis-a-vis e-books.

That said, it is not IF but When and How - technology enabled learning is already here and it is here to stay & metamorphose. This will mean that the content will be aplenty. There must be an effective quality of institutional brand - attractiveness, authenticity and stature that would  together determine which & whose content would be chosen and preferred over the others'.

Is the future of work ...from home? Discernable impact would also be felt and visible in the employment space. India's largest Private Banking group, HDFC Bank's Aditya Puri in his interaction with CNBC TV18's Latha Venkatesh has opined that they may explore the possibility of having 30% of their workforce to continue their work-from-home set up. This he felt will positively impact the costs for the Bank. The lingering fear due to the contagious nature of this Covid-19 virus will likely prevail until some sort of vaccine is available or until the Covid-19 danger is 100% ruled out. This may also mean that there might be greater acceptance among people / workforce to opt-in for work from home, in a quarantined envrionemnt. This would mean that the work culture will also go through a major transition in India due to COVID-19 pandemic. 

Though work-from-home is not entirely a novelty here in India, it may be more acceptable to conduct greater number of job-roles away from an office. Till now, independent contributor oriented roles had a higher potential to be work-from-home roles. Besides these, sales roles are almost always considered non-desk roles given the extensive travel that accompanies such a role demands. But, if we were to take HDFC's Aditya Puri's assessment, it will also mean huge cost benefit and bottomline efficiency for companies to invest in systems to also have the back-end / operations oriented roles too work-from-home. Huge daily commute, time spent in such commute, pollution, etc are all collateral benefits. Though these are obvious, there may be surprise unexpected other collateral benefits too, like how people are beginning to realize now while under lockdown.   

Data security & sovereignty concerns ... there are no easy answers. While work from home and online collaboration & engagement is something that surely is going to see massive growth (it already is seeing massive growth), it may also be of equal importance to ensure due checks & balances in terms of data - security. All these tele / audio-visual communication platforms can have a national security dimension. It is a matter of coincidence that at the time of editing this article, we had come across an announment that states Home Ministry, Government of India, directs that Zoom meeting platform should not be used by govt officials and offices for any purpose. (Page 1 of the 16 page advisory is below) (source: https://twitter.com/airnewsalerts/status/1250750284168495104)

At this point, it is necessary to bring forward one of the pioneers who detected the need to have an active policy focus on data-sovereignty. Centre for Knowledge Sovereignty's Vinit Goenka is a man with multiple interests and committed missions. He has co-authored the book Data Sovereignty The Pursuit of Supremacy that is prescient in dealing with these very data and sovereignty concerns. This book deep dives into concepts and our narrative of 'Data Colonisation'.

So, there are some certainties. Some constraints. Some possibilities. How things pan out, time will tell. One thing is for sure - this requires a multi-pronged collaborative approach between the government, corporates / organizations, people / civil society to evolve a consensus and through this consensus would evolve an enabling system to make this remote anywhere anytime learning & collaboration possible.

Do please drop your comments, criticism and feedback in the comments section.

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