Techspectations Educate overview: Hybrid learning, online upskilling way forward

As educational institutions open in India in a guarded fashion and students queue up for their first offline classes in two years, one thing is certain -- the education sector will never be the same again.

Online learning is here to stay and seamless integration of digital teaching methods with student-centred education is needed to gain a competitive edge in the global arena.

Bringing together an expert panel of policymakers, educationists, and technologists, Techspectations Educate 2021, the fourth edition of Manoramaonline's premier digital summit, held here on Saturday delved into the immense possibilities in digital education.

While acknowledging the need to transition into a 'hybrid model' of learning, Union Minister of Education, Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Dharmendra Pradhan said the benefits of digital education could be fully utilised only when every student in the country secured access to digital devices.

“The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 has a special focus on digital education. The next few years will transform our digital education system,” Pradhan said while delivering the keynote address, 'NEP: Approach, Opportunities and Challenges', at the digital summit.

Union Minister of Education, Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Dharmendra Pradhan at Techspectations Educate 2021

The Education Minister highlighted that the PM eVIDYA program for universal online classes, and the Vidyanjali portal for digital infrastructure asset creation in rural and underprivileged areas aimed at bridging this divide.

The virtual summit, which had over 1,000 registered participants, was moderated by Kiruba Shankar, CEO, Business Blogging Pvt Ltd. Putting things in perspective, Shankar said that 8,400 Edtech companies were launched in the country during the last two years, forming a market of Rs 20,000 crore.

Mariam M Mathew, CEO, ManoramaOnline said that technology's transformational abilities and possibilities are way beyond the virus' disruptive potential. She was delivering the welcome address at the summit.

'Pandemic learning', as Tech evangelists had predicted, is all set to transform education with the help of computers and apps powered by artificial intelligence, she added.

While delivering the lead address Karnataka’s Minister for Higher Education Minister, Information Technology & Biotechnology and Science & Technology, Dr. C N Ashwath Narayan termed hybrid learning as the way forward.

He quoted the various initiatives by the Karnataka government in the field of education like the comprehensive learning management system to develop digital content, and the Unified University Management system to increase accessibility and accountability. The minister also hailed the NEP for its potential to strengthen the country and help it compete globally.

Online learning not a passing phase: Dr Chenraj Roychand

Dr Roychand, Chancellor, Jain (Deemed-to-be University) emphasised that the development of the right kind of digital infrastructure is going to be the future course of education in the country.

He exuded confidence that the challenges in bridging the gaps between the traditional education system and the digital method could be addressed with the implementation of the new NEP.


Entrepreneurs applaud Startup Mission

The digital summit also streamed a lively panel discussion on Kerala's EdTech Startup Ecosystem with some of the pioneers in the field of education technology in attendance. The participants included John M Thomas, CEO, Infopark Kerala; Shery S Kurian, CEO, Tutorcomp; Muhammed Rashid, Founder & CEO, Codesap Technologies LLP; Saiju Aravind, Founder & CEO, EduBrisk; and Joyal Joseph Joy, Founder, Teacherind.

Kickstarting the discussion, Infopark CEO John M Thomas said online education for school curricula is poised for a 600 per cent jump in the next three years. Highlighting Kerala's potential in ed-tech, he pointed out that the state is home to 200 ed-tech startups and that the sector is witnessing a massive surge.

Praising Kerala's Startup Mission, Tutorcomp CEO Shery S Kurian and Codesap Technologies CEO Muhammed Rashid said the seed money provided by the mission was a huge fillip to budding ventures. Teacherind Founder Joyal Joseph Joy pointed out that the school syllabi have not been updated with the advancements in technology and that it proves challenging for many students.


Online upskilling

The second panel discussion on the topic 'Online Upskilling Challenges & Vision Beyond 2021' stressed the importance of continuous learning and exposure for upskilling.

The discussion saw Arjun Mohan (CEO–India, upGrad), Dr Raj Singh (Vice Chancellor, Jain Deemed-to-be University), Sasank Potturu (CEO, Conduira), Dr Rajeev Ramachandran (Business Head – Horizon, Manorama) and Tom Joseph (Director – New Initiatives, Jain Deemed-to-be-University) sharing their thoughts on the future of ed-tech.

While upGrad CEO Arjun Mohan mentioned how the Covid pandemic induced a perception change amongst professionals that upskilling was possible online, Jain Deemed-to-be University VC Dr Raj Singh shared the prospects of virtual reality, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence in education.


Speak the language of the learners: Siddharth Banerjee

Learners' behaviour across the world is undergoing rapid changes with the ever-increasing internet penetration, Siddharth Banerjee, Managing Director – India & Asia, Pearson, said while referring to a global survey conducted by multi-national education major.

Another key finding is that 88 per cent of students want the higher education sector to teach career-oriented skills, Banerjee said, while adding that Pearson offers a range of modern services in the higher education landscape such as e-text options, AI-based English tests, tutorials and quality and credible content by world-leading authors.

"Attention span can be held if you are relevant and if you speak the language of the learners. Understanding the context of the learners is also important," he said.

The Immersive Classroom

The third panel discussion delved on the topic 'The Immersive Classroom: Experiences with AR/VR & New Age Technology'.

The panel included Teresa Jacobs, Executive Director – Learning, ISDC; Dr Manoj Nagasampige, Director – Directorate of Online Education, Manipal Academy of Higher Education; Jaya Nagarajan, Principal, Hari Sri Vidya Nidhi School; Aditi Chatterjee, Director – Research and Innovation, Silver Hills Higher Secondary School; and Ajith Jacob, Principal, The Choice School.

The possibilities of augmented reality and virtual reality were immense but online classes were taking their toll on children, Jaya Nagarajan, the principal of Hari Sri Vidya Nidhi School, Thrissur said during the discussion. Aditi Chatterjee, the director of Silver Hills Higher Secondary School, Kozhikode, too spoke of the importance of artificial intelligence but warned against the exclusion of natural intelligence. 

Meanwhile, other speakers like Manojkumar Nagasampige and Teresa Jacobs said that VR could enhance learning experience than diminish it.

TLF Awards announced

The winners of ManoramaOnline's Thought Leader Fellowship (TLF) awards were also announced at Techspectations Educate 2021. The interaction which followed questioned the relevance of teachers in the emerging digital era and pointed out that new teaching methods involving apps and significant technological upgradation were required to keep pace with evolving patterns in education. There was, however, a consensus among the winners that the attention span for online classes was shorter and innovative methods need to be deployed to hook students to the screen for longer periods.

Online education and online upskilling will be an integral part of everyday education whether planned or unplanned, Bobby Paul, General Manager, ManoramaOnline said while offering the concluding remarks at Techspectations Educate 2021.

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