Sushma Paul Berlia

Education policy in the new normal: Sushma Paul Berlia, Apeejay Stya University

At the Dataquest T-Schools Higher Education Conference and Awards 2021 event, Sushma Paul Berlia, Co-Founder and Chancellor, Apeejay Stya University, talked about education policy in the new normal.

Today, eyes are everywhere in education. The contribution education can make to the economy, post the pandemic, if done in the right way. We are poised at an interesting time in history. 

While technology, digitalization and innovation has been going on, the pandemic enabled us to leapfrog by at least 5 years. NEP 2020 is revolutionary, and has encapsulated many of the transformational endeavors we have led at Apeejay.

During the pandemic, at Apeejay, we had computers in the classrooms by 2015-16, we were fully on cloud by 2010. We were experimenting with lot of knowledge management systems. A lot of work on that, digitalization, smart campus, etc., we being experimented with. Pandemic allowed us to put all of that in place, and sensitize all our stakeholders into the use of and working with many of these innovations.

It was a learning process for us. As we went along, we better understood what worked well, and what did not. We were able to innovate along the way. For the education sector, the pandemic laid bare an opportunity in a crisis. It turned an evolution into revolution, and incremental steps into transformation. Today, when we are poised where only constant is change, the way students learn has completely changed. The old methods are no longer sufficient to keep them engaged. Students are being bombarded with knowledge from everywhere. What value does an educational institution bring in? How does it work in engaging students?

Industries themselves are going through a revolution. We hear about Industry 4.0! That means: all digital innovations, processes, etc., are being implemented within industries, as they are being implemented anywhere else. We need to relook and re-invent how we are integrating offline, online and virtual education in different ways. What are the kinds of policies that are needed to implement them and benefit all?

The educational authorities and government made themselves as flexible as they could during the pandemic. Keeping in view the flexibility in NEP 2020, the government has been talking about Bhiksha, Swayam-related education through radio, and different kinds of initiatives for differently-abled persons. There are alternative modes of learning. They have gone so far as to say that traditional education system could be provided virtually through Moksha, and other means. But, that is not enough!

Many years to go!
While NEP 2020 is very welcome, we have many years to go before we can see implementation on the ground. We definitely need an enabling policy with flexibility, where institutions can work with different modes of education and hybrid learning.

Offline courses may have elements of virtual education. Virtual education may have elements of physical contacts. As we go deeper into innovative opportunities before us, we are looking at AI and other instruments for educators. They are still in the nascent stage. At Apeejay, we are experimenting with some of them. We have already used AI-enabled solutions and found marginal success. We have found them useful in plagiarism detection, language translation, complex examinations, etc. We will see the true impact of AI/ML in education over the next few years, as use cases slowly become the norm.

We are truly excited around learning-need identification, and examination analysis. We need to do definitive work with the help of Big Data. There is big opportunity for government to help pool anonymous learnt data to help train machines and learning engines on large data stores to accelerate development. We need to have process as NEP is getting implemented down the line. The devil is in the details! We need to ensure there is inbuilt enough flexibility for institutions at local level to customize and work around solutions without compromising learning outcomes.

Education has always been around the teacher. What matters are teachers who can facilitate students to help themselves, and to learn for life. We found many of our teachers had to rethink and rework their approaches towards technologies and education, and to work on virtual mode. Fortunately, they were well trained in technology. We needed to figure out virtual technology platforms and ethics systems.

Virtual learning
We also had to see how do we evaluate students through virtual learning. Challenges were many! How to keep students engaged, without sacrificing on content. We could invite and have important personalities with us from across the world. Ultimately, what matters is: how is the student being engaged by the facilitator! Virtual is a platform where smaller number of people are better engaged. We have to think around how to make that possible in the normal course.

There is a huge opportunity for students to get access to famous personalities from across the globe, but also have access to the best teachers from remote locations. They are able to hear lectures from great people. Another area is assessment. The Apeejay team needs to be congratulated for coming up with a fool-proof system for conducting an examination. With the modal learning system we have, we were able to stop several malpractices, etc. Extra restrictions could be put into those settings. Examples are: use of safe browsers, use of cameras with 360-degree scan, locking screen systems, etc.

Many students had gone back home during the lockdown. They were trying to connect via remote locations. There were network problems, connectivity issues, etc. They had to be resolved. We were able to manage fairly well. This is also an area where the government can play a great role. The digital divide issue also cropped up during this period. There is a case for facilitating very low-cost devices, and the necessary bandwidth across the country. There is an opportunity for using digital and technological advances in a manner where education can be delivered cost effectively across the country. Teaching can also be brought in through these various modes. This is the need of the hour!

At Apeejay, we tried to send video copies across to various institutions. We tried to bring through Zoom and others, some of our lectures to some nearby villages. There is a big opportunity for bringing together public and private institutions, and government onto a platform where education can go through to various parts of the country. In the post-pandemic era, as an industry, there is no going back to the past.

We have also discovered how effective the tools can be for imparting education. There can be collaboration, working together, sharing ideas, working on documents, etc. Anyone coming out of an educational institute needs to be enabled to be working in a hybrid environment, and be exposed to all technologies. We also need to look at knowledge with one view. Students can also go back and see how they can improve themselves. Start with what is necessary, go on to what is possible, and soon, we will find that we are doing the impossible.

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