Primary and Secondary Education – RTE, Education Policy, SEQI, RMSA, Committee Reports, etc.

Online education must supplement, not replace, physical sites of learning


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: MOOCs

Mains level: Paper 2- Is online learning a substitute for the traditional educational institutions?

Left with no choice, many education institutions turned to online mode. But could that be a new normal? This article analyses the indispensable role of online education. However, online education cannot be a substitute for traditional education institutes. WHY? Read the article to know about the vital role of traditional educational institutions…

Online education (OE): Supplement not the substitute

  • The incredible synergy unleashed by information and communications technology (ICT) is the best thing to have happened to education since the printing press.
  • Indeed, higher education today is unthinkable without some form of the computer and some mode of digitised data transmission.
  • OE can use content and methods that are hard to include in the normal curriculum.
  • OE can put pressure on lazy or incompetent teachers.
  • OE can provide hands-on experience in many technical fields where simulations are possible.
  • And OE can, of course, be a powerful accessory for affluent students able to afford expensive aids.
  • As products of this revolution, online methods of teaching and learning deserve our highest praise — but only when cast in their proper role.
  • This proper role is to supplement, support and amplify the techniques of face-to-face education.
  • The moment they are proposed as a substitute for the physical sites of learning we have long known — brick-and-cement schools, colleges, and universities — online modes must be resolutely resisted.

So, what are the vested interests involved?

  • Resistance to OE is often dismissed as the self-serving response of vested interests, notably obstructive, technophobic teachers unwilling to upgrade their skills.
  • But these are not the only vested interests involved.
  • Authoritarian administrators are attracted by the centralised control and scaling-at-will that OE offers.
  • Educational entrepreneurs have been trying to harvest the billions promised by massive open online courses (MOOCs) — think of Udacity, Coursera, or EdX.
  • Pundits are now predicting post-pandemic tie-ups between ICT giants like Google and Amazon and premium education brands like Harvard and Oxford that will launch a new era of vertically-integrated hybrid OE platforms.

Is OE a viable alternative to traditional educational institutions (TEI) for the typical Indian student?

  • No one with access to an elite TEI chooses OE.
  • Instead, we know that OE always loses in best-to-best comparisons.
  • Favourable impressions about OE are created mostly by comparing the best of OE with average or worse TEIs.

But is it true that the best OE is better than the average college or university?

  • OE claims that neither the campus nor face-to-face interaction are integral to education.
  • Since the comparative evaluation of virtual versus face-to-face pedagogic interaction needs more space, the campus question is considered here.
  • How does the typical student’s home compare with a typical TEI campus?
  • Census 2011 tells us that 71 per cent of households with three or more members have dwellings with two rooms or less.
  • According to National Sample Survey data for 2017-18, only 42 per cent of urban and 15 per cent of rural households had internet access.
  • Only 34 per cent of urban and 11 per cent of rural persons had used the internet in the past 30 days.
  • It is true that many TEIs (both public and private) have substandard infrastructure.
  • But these data suggest that the majority (roughly two-thirds) of students are likely to be worse off at home compared to any campus.
  • The impact of smartphone capabilities and stability of net connectivity on OE pedagogy also needs to be examined.

Importance of college as a social space

  • It is as a social rather than physical space that the college or university campus plays a critical role.
  • Public educational institutions play a vital role as exemplary sites of social inclusion and relative equality.
  • In Indian conditions, this role is arguably even more important than the scholastic role.
  • The public educational institution is still the only space where people of all genders, classes, castes, and communities can meet without one group being forced to bow to others.
  • Whatever its impact on academics, this is critical learning for life.
  • Women students, in particular, will be much worse off if confined to their homes by OE.

Consider the question- “Covid-19 pandemic forced many educational institute to explore the online more of education. And this also brought to the fore the potential of the online mode of education. In light of this, examine the issues with substituting the online mode of education for the traditional educational mode.”


Though an indispensable supplement for traditional education, there are certain aspects of education and a social life that online learning cannot substitute. So, the government should not divert its attention from the traditional educational institution and look at online education as its substitute.

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