Techspectations 2020 | Brick and mortar schools to stay, blended learning the future

techspectation panellists
(Clockwise from top left) Dr Sasangan Ramanathan, Raghav Gupta, Dr Ajay Shah and Kiruba Shankar.

As schools were shut in wake of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020, millions of students were forced to pursue their education online.

This unprecedented digital shift demanded that we shed old practices and explore ways to integrate the best of technology to tailor student-centred learning models.

But are these changes to remain or will we see a blend of learning experience utilizing the best of campus experience and the efficiency of digital versions?

A session at Techspectations 2020, ManoramaOnline's marquee digital summit, Defining the new normal for Education & Transformation to Digital Learning, attempted to answer exactly that.


The panellists were Dr Ajay Shah, Executive Director and Head of IT at Bristol-Myers Squibb, USA; Raghav Gupta, Managing Director - India and Asia Pacific, Coursera; Dr Sasangan Ramanathan, Dean - Faculty of Engineering at Amrita University & Ex CTO AIXTRON, USA.

Dr Ajay Shah, who began the discussion, said recent months have taught him what the Z in Gen-Z stood for. “It could very well be Zoom,” Shah said.

Zoom is a video and online chat service used for teleconferencing that's been a rage during the lockdown where schools and offices were shut.


It was used by teachers and employees to hold discussions and classes.

What the past months have also revealed is that there were digital inequalities in our society, Shah pointed out.

“As more schools and colleges moved online, we learned that not all were equipped with the technology necessary to continue their education. The pandemic was a wake-up call,” Shah said.

Coursera's Raghav Gupta detailed how online learning platforms were embraced by students and others even before COVID forced closure of schools and colleges.

He admits the pandemic had indeed been a catalyst for a surge. Coursera has seen 24 lakh students sign up for its classes in just the last six months. “70 per cent of these classes were taken on mobile,” Gupta said, emphasising the digital reach in India.


The recent regulation enabling the use of online classes was promising for the online education sector, Gupta pointed out.

Coursera has seen a 700 per cent growth in usage in last few months.

To the question if we would go back to the old normal, Gupta said that campuses are important, but a blended learning model would be preferred model in the future.

He also cited how core skills required by companies are changing. There's more precedence to digital skills and data knowledge.

“Also, remote work will be prioritized more in the coming years. We would no longer have to go to a certain place to work,” Gupta added.

Dr Sasangan Ramanathan chided the way how we seem to emphasise evaluation and marks in schools and colleges.

“Education is about learning, not marks,” Ramanathan said.

He also stressed the need for a revamp in faculty development programmes.

“Faculty are the new mentors. But they must be empowered to become so. They must be trained in the ways of the new.”

Ramanathan also dismissed the idea that brick and mortar schools are to stay. "Online learning is the future," he said.

While digital learning can bring the classroom to home, it must not curtail social interactions. Student's cannot sit latched to a digital platform. There's lot to be learned by other means, Ramanathan warned.

One thing is certain, the recent months have caused a tectonic shift in the framework of education. Education experts have long lamented that the one-size-fits-all curriculum does not work for all learners. Now, with the changes that are sweeping the sector in wake of the coronavirus pandemic, there's more emphasis on the students' diverse needs and the discovery of possibilities to meet those needs.

At Techspectations 2020, the experts agreed blended learning model is likely to become mainstream for education.Techspectations is Manorama Online's marquee digital summit featuring a long array of global tech luminaries.

Unlike the previous two editions, 2020's two-day summit has taken a virtual avatar in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The theme of the virtual summit is ‘Digital-led 2021 - Define the new normal’, and fittingly so given the times that we are in.

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