The government must do everything to build robust internet connectivity
Even as the uncertainty over the reopening of educational institutions looms large in view of the coronavirus pandemic, the Goa government has taken a positive step to meet the crisis. Chief Minister Pramod Sawant on Monday launched DISHTAVO (Digital Integrated System for Holistic Teaching And Virtual Orientations), an online/offline learning platform. The initiative, the first of its kind in the country, is available on YouTube. DISHTAVO is a comprehensive programme to create e-content in the form of video lectures of syllabus pertaining to the colleges affiliated to the Goa University. The programme has been initiated by the directorate of higher education with assistance from Goa University and is aimed at conducting higher education classes for the academic year 2020-21. The same would be available for offline learning and students can view recorded lectures to understand the subjects. The DHE and GU should be complimented for coming up with the online/offline teaching and learning platform in extraordinary times in view of pandemic. Though somewhat belated, this is a positive step and will go a long way in promoting e-teaching and e-learning.
The state government’s initiative to promote online/offline education for higher education came on the day the Centre issued guidelines for gradual reopening of educational institutions in the country beginning October 15. The guidelines include thorough cleaning and disinfection of premises, flexibility in attendance and ensuring smooth transition from home-based schooling to formal schooling. The states and Union Territories have been directed to frame their own SOPs for health and safety precautions as per local requirements. The schools can have their own SOPs to ensure observance of physical distancing by all. While the guidelines for safety of students and teachers have been issued, it is for the state authorities to ensure that they are not compromised. Schools have a small number of cleaning and multi-tasking staff sanctioned to deal under normal circumstances. The guidelines call for continuous cleaning and disinfection of premises and would need additional manpower and funds, which the state should provide for effective implementation of its directives.
The state government has not yet taken any decision on reopening schools. As far as the health safety of students, teachers and other staff is concerned, any decision on reopening educational institutions should be taken only after addressing the concerns of stakeholders, including parents. Though the central guidelines allow room for flexibility in attendance and teaching there is a possibility of these guidelines being misinterpreted or wrongly applied, and that could lead to some students losing out on instructions. Though the state government has made some efforts to provide online education, there is no effective substitute to classroom teaching as yet. However, it should be the government’s endeavour to ensure that the classroom teaching resumes only after all health safety measures are in place.
Meanwhile, the government needs to act immediately on the recommendations made by GU for upgradation of internet connectivity through the optical fiber network in the state and improving connectivity to promote e-learning. A GU study has found that nearly 75 percent of the respondents, an overwhelming number of them from rural areas, to its survey were unsatisfied with the internet speed in their localities. Even those from urban areas complained about slow internet speed that prevented them from catching up with online classes. It goes without saying that any infrastructure created for improvement of internet connectivity would continue to serve students and people of the areas and not go waste. These facilities would continue to bring in income for telecom service providers even after the coronavirus pandemic loses its disastrous power of transmission. It has to be also borne in mind that these facilities would help reshape the future of the rural youth by facilitating learning through use of advanced features and help them achieve greater success. The experience in all countries and all sectors has shown that high speed internet is the base on which the edifice of growth, progress and advancement can be built.