Disruption and chalking out a new idea for education 

#GS2 #EducationReforms 

In the aftermath of the pandemic’s deep impact in India, ‘Acadonomics’ is a concept whose time may have come 

  • When the novel coronavirus first made headlines at the beginning of the year, few in the comity of nations would have thought even in their wildest dreams that it was going to have so much of an impact that not even a single sphere of life would be left unaffected. 
  • Now, six months into the pandemic, not only has there been a colossal loss of life and economic damage the world over, but COVID-19, as it has come to be called, is leaving a lasting impression on education.  
  • This in turn is bound to have a telling impact on generations to come, forgetting for a second the extent to which the current graduating classes are in a state of limbo.  
  • In a larger perspective it has also raised the spectre of educational institutions shuttering their doors completely or taking unprecedented steps that have invariably affected jobs and livelihoods. 

A comparison with the West 

  • Shifting gears in an academic setting is not easy whether one is talking about institutions in the developed West or the developing nations.  
  • Economics has always been a part of academics; it is only in the present circumstances that it has become all the more apparent as to how management, especially in private institutions, is going to meet demands on the one hand and availability of resources on the other.  
  • If one may call this new phenomenon “acadonomics”, it would imply a careful allocation of resources keeping in mind the transient nature of the issue of how long it is going to take to come back to the steady state of affairs that it once was. ‘Acadonomics’ will also involve seeing the economics of moving on to an online mode of the teaching-learning process, whether it is going to be a temporary phenomenon, something of a mix to be offered or a permanent alternative to the current scheme of things that has come to stay for the short and the medium terms. 

Private education 

  • In the way they are set up, private institutions in India are hardly in a position to meet an eventuality such as COVID-19, something that comes by lightning speed and leaves a trail of destruction that would take many, many years to rectify.  
  • In an educational set-up in India, nothing can be reduced — the norms cannot be lowered nor can the infrastructure be dismantled.  
  • The downside to self-financed institutions is that in the time of the pandemic and loss of jobs, students plead inability to pay the requisite fee (and in many instances, the hostel fee as well) thereby placing additional burden on the management which feels already stretched because of existing commitments that would include paying off interest on the money borrowed for improving infrastructure on their campuses. 

Dual mode of learning 

  • The spike in cost for persisting with a dual mode of the teaching-learning process is going to be quite prohibitive for the next few years.  
  • First, the scaling of operations that would include the dual modes of online and offline is going to be expensive due to a dual mode of educational delivery. To rub salt into the wound, the new social distancing norms would lead to the enforcement of smaller class sizes, thereby increasing the effective teaching load and multiplicity of efforts.  
  • Second, the online teaching mode brings with it increased costs of IT infrastructure such as network bandwidth, servers, cloud resources and software licensing fees.  
  • Third, online teaching means new hiring in the IT sector and increased costs due to engagements with Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, and other online platforms.  
  • Fourth, online teaching means setting up multiple studios and educational technology centres which translate into investments in high technology.  
  • Fifth, creation of virtual laboratories across all domains of studies and examination centres, etc. would add to the woes in terms of already depleted finances.  
  • Finally, it is a wrong perception that all faculty members are adept in online teaching — style and delivery go far beyond donning a jacket, having adequate personal grooming and rattling off from a teleprompter. Therefore, additional funds have to be allocated to train faculty for online teaching. 

Possible reforms 

  • In these difficult times, the onus is on the Centre and State governments to provide soft loans to students to stay with the educational course.  
  • For professional and non-professional courses, the natural tendency for students would be to opt for online courses as they could cut back and save on hostel, mess and travel costs.  
  • At the same time students looking at online instruction would be disinclined to pay the same fee charged for offline instruction which means that some institutions may well have to shut down due to their inability to meet costs.  
  • Therefore, owing to ‘acadonomics’, the consequences can be quite dire with a potential to cause irreparable and long-term harm to the younger generations of students as well as institutions.  
  • At this point of time it would seem prudent for the government and regulatory bodies to not interfere in the fee structure, and, for the future, even consider a measure of higher degree of financial autonomy.  
  • One would agree that in the long run, technology can flatten the cost due to economies of scale, but in a shorter frame of time of three to five years, the cost of education is likely to go up. 
  • It may be an exaggeration to say that in India, education and the financial models are inverted as opposed to many others: there is good quality private school education but one that is fairly expensive; but good quality higher education is subsidised in relation to their direct costs.  
  • While replicating any western model in India may not be wholly appropriate, it is high time institutions in India are allowed to create coffers or corpuses for a rainy day. Or, perhaps, educational institutions could come to be treated like any other corporate body, with an allowable small margin of profit. The corporate model addresses not just financial sustainability but also a professional governance structure that would entail better accountability and holistic education.  
  • ‘Acadonomics’ of the future will not only decide the fate of the academic sector in India but also its quality, ranking, research, innovation potential and its collective impact on our country’s economy. 
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