The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the world to review its current modes of operation across all vectors.
Education is heavily impacted by the present situation. Over 1.5 billion students are now at home as schools are closed across countries. As per UNESCO, more than 60 million teachers are no longer in the classroom.
Education institutions across the world are experimenting with digital methods for self-learning and teaching remotely using virtual classroom platforms.
What is a Virtual Classroom?
A virtual classroom (VC) is an online platform that replicates physical classrooms but in a virtual space. It is an online teaching and learning environment. It enables teachers to use various tools to enable engagement, participation and learning. VCs can be used either as stand-alone learning platforms or supplement physical classroom learning. In certain cases, VCs have proven to be more interactive and also convenient in various ways.
Virtual classrooms are different from online self-learning environments because they connect students and teachers in real-time. They provide an opportunity to collaborate while learning remotely.
Advantages of Virtual Classroom
Virtual classes enable teachers and students to set their own learning pace. Classes can be scheduled per a flexible time-table as most convenient for teachers and students.
Online learning via classrooms expands the reach of education. Students and teachers from different parts of the country (and, in fact, the world) can come together virtually for learning. The essential requirements of a virtual classroom is an internet connection and a suitable device.
A virtual learning environment has proven to be cost-effective in various scenarios. Teachers from different parts of the country can teach students from a remote area without having to relocate. Students can learn new skills without paying for additional tuition and books.
4. Customized Learning Experience
The virtual classroom learning can be customized to the needs of students. This includes deciding the size of the class or the additional learning tools to be used. Teachers can identify the strengths and needs of students and use available resources accordingly.
5. Wide Reach
An online platform can be used by different grades and for various academic and non-academic subjects.
Virtual Classroom and Traditional Learning Environments Can Exist Together
For several years, educators have debated whether virtual classrooms will replace physical classrooms. However, virtual classrooms and traditional classrooms can co-exist to reap combined benefits. They can be used together to supplement and enhance the learning experience of students.
1. Supplement Existing Classes
Virtual classrooms are available for exclusive online learning and as supplementary mediums to support the brick and mortar classrooms. Traditional learning does not have to be replaced with online learning. The two forms can co-exist and support each other in building knowledge.
2. Inclusive Learning
Virtual classrooms are enablers of learning that are inclusive and all-encompassing. Several millions of students across the globe are unable to access education because of physical limitations. The education imparted virtually can extend its reach to students who are physically challenged or lack the requirements to attend a regular classroom.
3. Extend Reach
Virtual classrooms can become a unidirectional tool for quality education. Now students in different corners of the country or parts of the world can access the same content, interact with the best teachers and collaborate on various projects without having to travel to faraway places or compromise with mediocre education available to them.
4. Continuity Of Education In Unforeseen Circumstances
Learning with virtual classes can continue even when schools are shut temporarily or for longer periods of time. The present COVID-19 situation has put education systems to test. Across the world, schools and colleges had to swiftly move to online learning platforms to continue learning.
ReadToMe Virtual Classroom
ReadToMe®, a multi-sensory reading and comprehension AI software, has proven to be a very useful platform to solve the English literacy challenge. Before the ‘lockdown’, students in more than 25,000 government schools were already reading English in class with the help of the software.
ReadToMe® will be available for remote teacher-led learning (ReadToMe Virtual Classroom). The platform will allow teachers and students to access their school textbooks online.
Looking at the present scenario, it can be assumed that students will not be able to access their schools for indefinite periods of time. In a situation like this, a virtual classroom can enable the continuation of learning from home. ReadToMe Virtual Classroom is a very effective way for teachers to teach English to students who have access to the internet.
How Can Virtual Classrooms Be Made Available To All?
Across the world, quality education has an inequitable distribution. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated this difference is significant even during this crisis. While affluent schools were mostly able to immediately transition to online learning, students from economically weaker sections of the society could not adapt to the new developments. Millions of students lack access to the internet and the smart devices that support online learning.
Educating our children is a collective duty which requires participation from all sections of society. Governments, social organisations, corporates and development agencies must channelize resources to ensure education does not remain a privilege for a few. The current crisis offers the opportunity to leverage technology to equalize education.
Affordable technology solutions and budgetary support for the less-privileged (i.e. procurement of devices and providing internet connections) is a necessity. In fact, this must be an integral part of the fiscal stimulus being injected to save the economy.
Online learning is growing exponentially after the sudden crisis worldwide caused by the pandemic. Online learning will not be limited only to the period of this disruption. Acquiring education will outgrow the physical space, and learning will not be restricted only to physical classrooms. Education systems around the world are quickly adapting to the need of the hour. Virtual classrooms will become commonplace both in school and at home. The benefits of online learning platforms will outweigh the challenges that come with any such change. However, we cannot create a digital divide. Technology and the current crisis are a compulsion that can lead to democratising education.
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