Education is a process of developing an attitude to learning.

When did we last see a school with full of children? When was a school bus plying last time? What an unusual time, extraordinary situation! Congregation is the enemy of coronavirus. No crowding and no congregating. Schools, colleges and universities are all closed and we don’t know when they are going to reopen.

Many people are saying what is wrong if the academic institutions are closed, the community of teachers and students can continue the imparting and receiving of education online. It is easier said than done. May be they do not know the real India.

The mass use of mobile phones doesn’t mean the medium is used for constructive purposes other than communication, entertainment and spreading of fake news. In the absence of reliable data it is difficult to arrive at any definitive conclusion. But, from our common understanding we can say that the phone is rarely used for educative purposes in schools.

Even for higher education its use is limited. Here we need to understand one basic characteristics of education. Is education merely a process of transferring texts or lessons from the teachers to the students? It is a wrong notion of education. Ready-made texts or for that matter study materials are only a part of education.

The purpose of education is to hone an inquisitive mind and develop a critical thinking among the students. There are many ways to do that. These also include texts and study materials. What happens in the process of imparting and receiving education?

Many things happen simultaneously. And instead of saying imparting and receiving education, may we say reading-learning process. This is a dual process where the teachers and students participate in the process. It is not only a process of learning, it is also a process of understanding and creating new knowledge. It is a creative process of participation. At school level, particularly in our context which is the context of a developing world, it is not possible to do it online.

There are apparently three different but inter connected aspects of education. Education is a process of developing an attitude to learning. It is a process of creating new knowledge and finally it is also acquiring certain human and ethical values while involving in the reading-learning process. Is it possible to do all the three virtually without attending schools and classrooms? I don’t think so. Not that we have all the facilities everywhere for imparting education online.

Even, if we had the facilities, education will not happen online at school level. It doesn’t happen even in most developed countries. Yes, we have been seeing quality music being produced during the lockdown   through specialised apps by artists. It was done at a different level by a highly synchronised and skilled group of expert musicians. To expect that from ordinary students will be asking for the impossible. So there is practically no alternative to the regular schools and classrooms.

Even, a US based scholar like Raghuram Rajan the other day commented that though during the lockdown he was involving himself in some kind of educational activities in his university it was never like the regular classroom activities.

But we are never going to get back the school days lost in the lockdown. So how can the lost of so many days could be recovered? When we speak in terms of recovering lost school days, we in a way indulge ourselves in a kind of quantification which is difficult to measure and it is again in a sense speaking about the time required for imparting lessons and texts to the students.

Here, leaving aside the ideality of the issue, if we come to the practical thing, first thing comes to our mind is the list of holiday in the school calendar. This is one thing we can easily expend with. In such crisis time holiday is a luxury. So all school holidays including summer and winter holidays must be dispensed with.  Other holidays should also be done away with.

I am sure this will give us many more additional working days to compensate the lost school days. The examinations and other academic routine may be rescheduled accordingly. Then, we should also explore the possibility of breaking a class to different shifts to avoid congestion in the classroom and for maintaining social distancing.

This may be a problem in overcrowded private schools. But, shouldn’t be a big issue in some of the government schools where student population is thin. Then, provision may be made for extra classes or special tutorials so that lost school days can further be recovered and compensated. The most challenging thing will be maintaining hygiene in the school campus and classrooms. Actually this is not a crisis. This is an opportunity.

The practice of best hygiene should be an integral part of our education. Besides, to fight the COVID-19, the education department should prepare an elaborate hygiene manual in consultation with the public health experts and educators.

We should do this in a way so that it can be used not against this pandemic but for any future pandemic to come. The thing is all the extra burden will mostly fall on the members of the faculty and the education administration. Given the urgencies, it may not be that difficult to get their cooperation and support.

Paresh Malakar

Paresh Malakar is a commentator based in Guwahati. He can be reached at: malakarparesh@gmail.com