The country is shaken by the surge in Covid-19 infections over the past several weeks. The economy is in the doldrums. Students are in home confinement and the circumstances prevailing in the entire nation are impacting them and their parents.

Online education was envisioned as an alternative means of spreading education, but it too fails, given the Indian students’ conditions. The availability and affordability of this system poses a barrier. There are also implications of longer exposure to the internet for these young kids. This may create impediments to the development of the thinking process in the younger generation.

The other important question is about the learning outcomes of online education. Google is the Messiah to all queries, and as a result of that, students are not thinking on their own. If we recall the purpose of modern education, it is not about how much quality information is being imparted to students; rather, the focus is on imparting education in a way that develops the thinking faculty in the student’s mind. The thinking faculty guides logical reasoning based on a scientific outlook.

Scientific outlook was the key parameter stressed upon since the inception of modern education in India by great thinkers and renaissance personalities such as Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Jyotirao Phule, and others. There were debates in the 18th century across the country, and later the British were forced to introduce science education in India. It’s not that the British were benevolent enough to initiate modern education in India. A strong movement was built up in the intellectual and enlightened community of India, and it’s their efforts that gave rise to modern education in India. The effect was sparkling: Jagadish Chandra Bose, then Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray, Srinivas Ramanujam, C V Raman, Meghnad Saha, Satyen Bose, and many others contributed immensely to the world of knowledge through their path-breaking research. That knowledge was at par with the topmost research of those times in the world. Scientific outlook and the zeal to overcome any obstacle was the key to the success of the above-mentioned great scientists and many others in pre-independent India. That is why school education is crucial.

Our country has a large young population. We should plan to impart quality education to these young minds. For one year, due to the pandemic and lack of physical classroom teaching, a peculiar feeling of isolation is developing in the minds of students. That’s a very serious issue. The trauma of the second wave will put a deep imprint on the student’s mind. That will lead to an irreconcilable contradiction, and ordinary family members will not be in a position to address the issue; rather, it may escalate and may worsen by the day if not appropriately handled. The entire teaching community should be geared to face this challenge, not mechanically, but with empathy.

Physical interaction and activities have been entirely absent, and that may also be contributing to new problems. Dropouts are a big problem in our school education system. The Right To Education Act 2009 was passed in Parliament to address this issue, and automatic promotion was introduced up to Class 8. But the quality of education was heavily compromised. We may find school dropouts following the same trend of exponential rise as the cases of Covid. A sizable number will be deprived of formal education, and will remain outside the ambit of education. So, what alternative can we think of to educate our young minds? The centre of attraction should remain the physical school for students. There should not be any doubt over that.

How can we handle the prevailing situation? The vaccination drive is not for those below 18 years of age. So, right now, we cannot think of inviting students into the physical classroom. In addition, another year (if not more) will pass till the pandemic comes under control and everything returns to normal.

School education should be of the utmost importance to our nation. The whole infrastructure should be fully utilised, and if necessary, many more facilities should be invested in (and created) to impart education. Classroom teaching gives us the opportunity to impart many more things apart from information, for example, the mode of articulation, the method of initiation of new concepts, body language, etc.

In a changing scenario, we should contemplate new content generation for each subject to overcome the absence of classroom teaching within the framework of the existing syllabus. This content would be of a new type, self-explanatory, and considering the lowest IQ of the class, it has to be attractive. The content should produce the same effect on the minds of the students that the best book imparts on the thinking faculty. India has vast resources in terms of school teachers and would-be teachers that can be tapped to produce subject-wise new content. Many individuals will appreciate the proposal, and will voluntarily join the campaign to save school education in the present situation and invest their young, energetic minds in developing this new content. The role of the education board and the government will be to channelise the work to advance the cause of education. School education should visualise and set a goal to develop the logical framework and reasoning capability in the young minds in stages.

Once the content is created and printed by the respective boards and state governments, the schools and the department of post will work in cooperation to reach the students. The teachers, and the non-teaching staff will share a part of the responsibility. The newly-developed education material should not be forwarded at one go, rather in parts for each subject. The teachers and non-teaching staff should visit the locality of the students (in and around the school area) on a weekly basis to supervise the whole work. They should take notes on the problems faced by students in understanding the reading material and also whether things are reaching them on time.

The second most important part of this system would be the evaluation system. The evaluation should be based on the capacity of analysis, and the questions should be framed in such a way that students need to apply their minds to answer the questions on each subject. These questions will be developed along with the content discussed above, and will play a pivotal role in advancing the logical reasoning process in the student’s mind. These questions will also be forwarded to students through the school and through the postal system, along with a prepaid envelope. These prepaid envelopes will be used by the students to send the answers to the school through the postal system. The teachers will evaluate the answers and note the progress, and forward them along with the next phase of content. This process will go on and the teachers’ visits to the houses of students should complement the learning process. In addition, the government should take the responsibility to vaccinate the whole teaching community as fast as possible to advance this learning process.

(This is a slightly modified version of an article originally published in The Indian Express. The original article can be found at https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/how-schooling-during-the-pandemic-can-be-transformed-7315318/)