It is welcome that the Centre is planning a repository of online university courses in partnership with private players, to host courses from online and global education platforms and standalone online education providers. More so, against the backdrop of the UGC recently having approved online delivery of 40% of universities’ course-work. The pandemic made stark the need for a robust online education ecosystem and though India has had to play ‘catch up’, partially freeing up online degrees by universities post the pandemic, the move is neither too late or too little. While the new repository will curate courses that suit India university curricula, the government should consider tapping into Swayam, the MOOCs (massive online open courses) platform launched in 2017. Bear in mind, Swayam, since its launch, has seen nearly 1.85 crore enrolment for various courses run by 203 partner institutes. There have been over 11 lakh exam registrations and close to 1.2 lakh successful certifications. Of course, Swayam also houses senior secondary and skilling courses, but it is likely that a significant chunk of the successful completions will be in tertiary education. As for the courses from foreign universities and those developed by private education platforms, given these will be curated to suit Indian university curricula, the need for any significant regulatory oversight is dispensed with.
However, the bigger hurdle to cross for the country remains access to online education. While it is expected to be better at the university level than at the school level, the fact that students across universities have cited problems of both access and delivery of online education to demand cancellation of examinations highlights the need to fix these problems. The problem of access has proved debilitating for school education. As the ASER covering the first few months of the pandemic last year suggests, there is sharp inequality in terms of device- and internet access between children enrolled in government schools (more likely to belong to poorer households) and in private schools (likely to belong to relatively better-off households). As this newspaper has pointed out before, this inequity is likely to further exacerbate the gaps in learning between the two cohorts and push the children from poor households into even deeper future financial and employment insecurity than they already risk. While some studies have indicated greater willingness among households to invest in devices and the internet to provide online access towards, how possible and how sustained this can remain a question, especially with pandemic exacerbating unemployment risks at the bottom of the pyramid. Three-fourths of the respondents in a recent survey flagged, among other factors, connectivity and affordability as barriers to digitally accessing education, with the poorer regions of the country impacted worse. Compounding worries is the likelihood that girls would be worse off than boys. Even as the Centre works on the online repository of university courses, there is a need to drastically improve access across levels. That said, it is the states that will need to take the lead on this, especially.
Courtesy – Financial Express