Minerva ProjectHow the shift to blended learning will support educational reform in India

How the shift to blended learning will support educational reform in India

The Indian government has ambitious plans to widen access to higher education in the country. The acceleration of digital learning brought about by the pandemic will help universities achieve those goals

As with universities everywhere, campuses in India were forced to perform a quick switch to online learning when the pandemic hit. But at a time when most were preparing for an uncertain academic year ahead, the Indian government announced ambitious educational reform. In July 2020, it launched its National Education Policy, which aims to raise the higher education enrolment rate from about 26 per cent to 50 per cent by 2035.

At THE’s roundtable discussion on how the new regulations will enable digital transformation, the panellists confirmed that they have already seen clear benefits from moving online. Professor G. D. Sharma, vice-chancellor of the University of Science and Technology in Meghalaya, said: “The technology has meant opportunities for us all to come together and share our experiences and research. Getting knowledge and expertise from abroad is an important part of our academic activity, but takes time and money spent on flights. It will expose our young people to new knowledge and show them how they can contribute not just in India but worldwide.”

Professor Aditya Shastri, vice-chancellor of Banasthali University, said that despite a push among some academics for a return to purely classroom-based education, his university would embrace a hybrid model going forward. However, he conceded that his campus had been lucky to benefit from stable technology infrastructure, unlike some institutions serving more rural areas of India. “We are fortunate that we have been able to serve around 95 per cent of students, and we were able to go online quickly,” he said. “In the future, I think online learning will help us to deliver general courses that before might have required many face-to-face classes, to offer specialist lectures from leaders across the globe, and develop new courses. Currently, demand for new lectures exceeds our ability to offer them.”

Dr Neelesh Kumar Jain, director of the Indian Institute of Technology in Indore, said rural connectivity issues would need to be addressed as part of wider educational reform. “There has been a digital divide in India, and not all students are able to afford a smartphone. Others may be living with family and can’t have uninterrupted time to study,” he added. If these challenges could be overcome, offering learning opportunities digitally would mean “more scalability, affordability and penetration” for higher education in India. This could include certification for professionals who cannot attend campus due to work, as well as offering short courses worldwide. Professor Shastri reflected that it was important to exploit the power of video to its utmost, addressing some of the challenges faced in subjects where practical work is a core part of study.

“As we move forward, we can have access to eminent people that can contribute to our students’ education, and blended learning will be a blessing,” said Dr B. Janardhan Reddy, vice-chancellor of Kakatiya University. He described how his university had successfully moved many of its departmental and international conferences online, hosting lectures virtually and reaching a wider audience. One concern was that technology cannot replace the experience of being on campus. “Students do not only come to university for education, they can learn more about culture, how they interact with friends, the experience of living in an apartment – I think a blend of approaches allows them to experience those situations,” said Dr M. Krishnan, vice-chancellor of Madurai Kamaraj University in Tamil Nadu.

Kenn Ross, managing director for Asia at education innovator Minerva Project, which hosted the roundtable, said the pandemic had forced many institutions to look closely at their pedagogical practices. “It’s now about how we leverage that technology to get a better learning environment, rethinking what a university should be, right down to its core level,” he concluded.

The panel:
Chair: Joyce Lau, Asia editor, Times Higher Education
Kenn Ross, managing director, Asia, Minerva Project
Professor Aditya Shastri, vice-chancellor, Banasthali University
Dr B. Janardhan Reddy, vice-chancellor, Kakatiya University
Dr M. Krishnan, vice-chancellor, Madurai Kamaraj University
Dr Neelesh Kumar Jain, director, Indian Institute of Technology, Indore
Professor G. D. Sharma, vice-chancellor, University of Science and Technology, Meghalaya (USTM)

Find out more about Minerva Project.

Watch the Times Higher Education and Minerva Project roundtable on-demand above or on the THE Connect YouTube channel.

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