Mukhtar Ahmad Farooqi
The role of education is to empower students with knowledge, skills and attitudes so as to make them productive in economic and social contexts that are essential to their success in a dynamic society. With the emergence of Covid-19 as pandemic and consequent lockdown to break the chain of transmission in both developed as well as developing countries has forced millions of students both at elementary as well as tertiary level to remain out of their respective institutions. This has denied them the access to regular (face to face) classroom instruction.
When death figures are announced on hourly basis, mental state of educators as well as learners is mandated to be at crosshairs due to fear psychosis. Still what is the alternative for educators around the globe in this crisis. Technology comes to our rescue in this situation and one such technology enabled teaching learning process is Virtual Classroom. Let us first understand what is meant by a Virtual Classroom and how it works.
Finkelstein (2006) defines virtual classroom as a visual contact between participants(learners) and instructor in an online environment as if they are engaged in face to face classroom setting. According to Parker & Martin (2010), virtual classrooms are online environments that enable students and instructors to communicate synchronously, by means of audio, video, text chat, interactive whiteboard, application sharing, instant polling and other such features, as though they were studying face to face in a classroom. A virtual classroom(e-school) is a teaching and learning environment where learners can communicate, interact, view(material), discuss and engage with learning resources in an online setting. Virtual classroom is also known as virtual learning environment(VLE). In simple terms, virtual classroom is an online classroom environment facilitated via specialized video conferencing apps.
The most common tools that we can use in VLE are video conferencing, instant messaging tools, online whiteboard for real time collaboration. There are so many mobile as well as computer apps that can aid us in VLE like Zoom, Vedaemo, Google Hangouts (in Google Classroom) etc. rather are currently used by several educational institutions across the valley. Apart from these Elluminate, Adobe Connect, WebEx, Wiziq, Centra are some commercially available virtual classroom software’s.
In virtual classroom setting, the learners are taught through synchronous instruction which means that the teacher and the learner feel in a real world conventional classroom system as they are logged into classroom (rather virtual in nature) at the same time. VLEs are considered most suitable in teaching and learning of science based subjects. But for any type of Virtual Education use of multimedia technologies and availability high speed internet are must haves. The advent of virtual classes can be traced back to mid-1990s.
Efficacy of VLEs in Public Schooling System
Despite so many benefits of VLE in normal conditions like real time teaching and learning, effective & efficient time management, end to end communication etc., there are several impediments in its implementation at gross root level as far as public educational institutional in India in general and JK in particular are concerned as VLE demands availability of computers/mobile phones(smart) and access to internet which might not be available to everyone.
Lack of access to requisite hardware like smartphones/computers due to poor economic condition is the biggest impediment as far as Public (Govt.) schools are concerned because most of learners in these schools belong to BPL families that hardly manage to live hand to mouth and possessing a smartphone is still a dream. Even at college level almost 20% students don’t own a smartphone especially those belonging to rural populace. If participation of the students is 20-30 percent, then what objective we are going to achieve is questionable.
Let’s do a case study by quoting an example from real life situation. Let us assume there 15 students in a class and only parents of 4-5 students possess a smartphone who are inside their houses during mornings/evenings only, then how this initiative is going to prove fruitful as participation at the maximum is 30% in this case.
Another limitation is the bandwidth (speed) of internet that is perquisite to effectively deliver the content as low bandwidth internet(2G) makes the mockery of the whole initiative as low speed internet takes hours for uploading or downloading even few MB(sized) files.
Last not but the least is the skill set required to use the video conferencing apps like Zoom etc. as most of the students belonging to Govt. schools are first generation learners. Neither they themselves nor their parents whom these innocent children could turn to in the absence of teachers possess those skills.
Apart from above limitations another challenge for a common man is the security flaw in certain apps like Zoom that sends the user data to social networking sites without the knowledge of the user that can prove disastrous as novice users of mobile banking apps can be easily cheated by fraudsters using their personal data.
Conclusion: There is no doubt that the merits of VLE immensely outweigh the demerits especially in developed countries but due to lack of access to high speed internet/ hardware(smartphones), its efficacy in public sector education set up especially at elementary level is negligible. Main reason being the age of target group (learners) at elementary level where the role of teacher is supposed to be pivotal, the only option they are left with is turn to their parents who being illiterate and poor are unable to offer any help to them in this situation. Use of multimedia technologies like these may prove helpful at high school and above levels but at elementary level it will prove as a causality and is debatable.
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