Indians fear pandemic will deepen inequalities among students: survey

Most respondents feel it will disrupt education till vaccine is found

Three out of four Indians say the COVID-19 pandemic will deepen inequalities among primary and secondary students, according to a survey by global education firm Pearson. Almost 80% fear the pandemic will continue to disrupt education until a vaccine is found.

The global online survey was conducted for Pearson in May by a market research firm, with results weighted for age, gender, education and socio-economic status so that proportions are representative of national demographics. Over a thousand Indians were included.

Campus reopening

Primary and secondary education will fundamentally change because of the pandemic, according to 80% of Indian respondents. Almost the same proportion says that online learning is going to become a bigger part of schooling for young people. With three-fourths of respondents recognising a widening digital divide, they were asked what solutions public education needs to invest in. About 45% felt the need to equip schools to switch to online learning, while 33% felt the top priority is to increase access to technology for underserved learners.

With regard to higher education, about two-thirds of the respondents felt that Indian colleges and universities were prepared for the pandemic. The survey revealed mixed opinions with regard to the physical reopening of campuses. Although 75% of Indian students believe that colleges and universities are risking the lives of students if they reopen in the fall, 71% also believe that reopening them is vital for the economy and society. Almost 80% said they would be less likely to travel overseas for their studies.

Blended learning, a hybrid between digital and face-to-face classes, seems to be the most popular option for the immediate future, with 86% of respondents accepting that online learning will be part of the university experience.

Soft skills

With the pandemic-exacerbated economic insecurities, 84% of Indian respondents made it clear that schools need to focus more on preparing students for the world of work, not just examinations.

Only 51% feel that a university degree is essential, and 62% said that their own higher education experience did not prepare them for their careers. In fact, only 46% say that if given the choice again, they would still go to college. Most respondents called for more soft skills and hands-on training in higher education, with more than 80% saying that while colleges and universities are good places to make professional connections, work-based experience outweighs what is being taught.

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