Opinion: COVID-19 has shown that technology is our biggest ally

During the pandemic, EdTech was the only respite for educators’ to deliver a distance learning education program. It promised growth, created digital spaces of opportunities and learning seemed easy.

By Afeera Maryam

Hyderabad: The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has changed the concept of learning spaces like never before. Everything became virtual, accessible and consequently remote. 

As I deep dived into the world of technology through virtual Zoom classrooms, sifting and finding the most readily available apps, I foolishly thought that I was a part of the revolution in EdTech that was happening at a supersonic speed. It is ironic to think of it as a revolution, because the world outside was fighting an unprecedented pandemic. 

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As an IB (International Baccalaureate) teacher navigating apps, centralized curriculum and assessment softwares like Managebac felt natural. At the same time, I could not help but reflect on the experiences of teachers who were struggling with accessibility, internet speed, and lack of good laptops etc.

As I oriented myself better with apps like Nearpod, Padlet, Flipgrid and multiple Google products, I became increasingly aware of their benefits. Nearpod allowed me to run classes in real-time and monitor my students consistently. Flipgrid helped me in making sure that my learners were confident and were able to employ their speaking skills in front of their peers sitting in different locations, thus building their confidence. 

Author Afeera Maryam

EdTech is a multi- million-dollar industry and it has picked up momentum during the pandemic, with everything going remote. When I was completing my Bachelors in Education 9 years ago, there was an interesting discussion about how technology will be the future of education.

Our Late Professor Nabi at Aligarh Muslim University would be simply enthralled if a student used a laptop in the teaching practicum B.Ed classroom. He would applaud them and congratulate them to think out of the box. It was revolutionary. I on the other hand was still busy drawing miniature blackboards on my practicum notebook, trying to be as diligent as I can be. 

I myself am emerging from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, where I sit in front of my computer screen for hours as a teacher supported thoroughly by the school with access to digital resources, pedagogy sessions, an i7 YOGA laptop purchased during the pandemic, and a subscription to a centralized curriculum and assessment software. All that with a really stable WiFi of course.

During the pandemic, EdTech was the only respite for educators’ to deliver a distance learning education program. It promised growth, created digital spaces of opportunities and learning seemed easy. The EdTech firms picked up investments.  For example, Byju’s, founded in 2005 as a video sharing platform for competitive exams in K12 schools, has now become the world’s biggest Ed-tech company.

Recently, I had the honour of facilitating a session for rural school teachers who were keen on learning more about the apps that can be used in the classrooms. As I stood there in the middle of the room, talking about a very important online Social Sciences resource, I could not help but realise that the pandemic has created an incredible gap between teachers, and between learners.

Our experiences were similar, but the details were overwhelmingly different. For example-my learners and I would struggle with online fatigue as all of our resources, and tasks were curated online and were always readily available. On the other hand my new teacher friends reflected that their students were not able to access all resources, internet speed was a huge challenge and most of them were not able to follow instructions as they were not able to give time to online learning due to multiple commitments. 

UNICEF reported that more than 1 billion children are currently at risk of falling behind due to school closures. It is an incredible statistic. I recently interacted with a student from Attapur, Hyderabad. I met Muskan, a grade 10 enrolled student studying in a local government school in Attapur. She has been set back by 4 years.

Her mother is unsure if she will be able to pass grade 10, as she is currently unable to comprehend basic texts and do basic numeracy tasks. This is the gap that we need to understand as soon as possible.  Currently, we are- inkling towards a post-pandemic world and trying to emerge out of it. Schools, both government and private, have been completely ignored as physical spaces are now opening up.

The coming years will be able to really tell us how much our young children actually have suffered. In more tangible terms the suffering in the field of education will be highlighted by the school drop-outs, selective girl-child dropouts, dipping mental health of students, and stark dip in literacy levels across Indian states. 

I am sure that we are yet to understand the challenge in front of us. It is an incredible one. How are we going to bridge the gap over the years? I for one sincerely believe that if EdTech is made readily available to students and teachers from socially-challenging economic backgrounds, and if teachers are trained to use them consistently, and voraciously,  we can think of this as one of possible solutions.  

The gap that has been created by the pandemic will be starkly visible in the coming years. As teachers and policy makers, we have to find solutions as soon as possible. Technology, I believe, is our biggest ally.

(Afeera Maryam is an educator at the Aga Khan Academy near Hyderabad, and teaches Humanities. She has been working as a teacher from the last 8 years and is a ex Teach For India fellow.)

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