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Coronavirus pandemic | Colleges, universities go online, ed-tech players offer free courses

Coursera, BYJU'S and Toppr are provided free lessons to students in the wake of institute shutdowns due to the Coronavirus outbreak

March 13, 2020 / 01:29 PM IST

With the coronavirus pandemic rapidly spreading across the globe, both Indian and international players are gearing up to offer online lessons in case of a prolonged shutdown.

India has reported 74 positive cases of COVID-19 and one death. This has led to schools across several states shutting down while the higher education institutes are in a wait-and-watch mode.

Many of the premier institutes, including the IIMs and IITs, have suspended classes, and taking them online could be the next step.

Internationally, the first step that has been taken by educational institutions is the suspension of classes till further notice.

From March 16, UK-based Durham University will be offering lessons online instead of daily lectures. Though the campus and its library will remain open, students have been ‘advised’ to study from home.


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The same goes for a host of global institutes like Harvard University, London School of Economics, Michigan State University and several French and Italian institutions.

US-based Harvard University announced on March 10 that it would suspend in-person classes and shift to online learning where possible, with the goal of limiting the spread of coronavirus in the community. Online classes will begin here from March 23.

In fact, due to ongoing concerns posed by the coronavirus pandemic, Harvard College students have been asked to move out of their houses and first-year dorms by 5pm (local US time) on March 15.

Though the institutes mentioned above do not have any COVID-19 cases, the idea is to minimise large gatherings including lectures and campus meets. Online classes are being enabled to ensure that students don’t miss out on the academics.

This is a crucial time for students.

March/April is a time when one semester ends and a summer break is declared. Classes resume in June. But, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is likely that the institutes will continue the remote-learning modules through this period.

Countries like the US and the UK have not yet faced a complete shutdown. However, those in France and Italy have already begun offering courses online.

Take Italy’s Politecnico di Milano for instance. The institution has been offering online classes since the past one week. Several Indian students who were forced to return home due to the COVID-19 outbreak are availing of this facility.

In India

In India, however, online classes have not yet begun in full swing. The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi has suspended classes till March 31 while Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Ahmedabad has deferred its annual convocation scheduled for March 21. IIM Bangalore has taken a similar decision.

These institutes have not yet taken a decision on shifting daily lectures to the online mode and are waiting for further clarity on the virus outbreak in India. About 37.4 million students are enrolled into higher education institutes across India.

Several schools in Kerala, Mumbai, Jammu, Delhi and Bengaluru have also been shut due to the Coronavirus pandemic. These schools are exploring technology-based alternatives to offer lessons. This is a crucial period because March is when the last term in schools gets over and the final examination is held for each grade.

Both CBSE and ICSE/ISC board examinations will conclude by March 30. Hence no decision has been taken to postpone these as of now.

At Greater Noida's Shiv Nadar University, all university students (undergraduate and postgraduate/doctoral) who are not on campus are being encouraged to stay away until March 31 and beyond if necessary.

During this time, the university will move all courses to online mode. This may happen through Blackboard, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, or other means. Any assessment planned for this period will either be postponed or adapted to online mode. Instructors will send students course-specific instructions remotely.

Ed-tech players offer free lessons

On one hand the educational institutes are offering online lessons while, on the other, educational technology players are offering free digital classes for students.

Educational Initiatives, an education research organisation, is offering 60 days free access to Mindspark to all students so that the school closure due to the COVID-19 virus does not impact their learning.

Mindspark is an AI powered specialised mathematics programme developed for children’s learning. The platform makes use of visuals, animations and gamification as interactive learning tools and students can follow their own learning path based on their current level.

App-based players like BYJU’S and Toppr are offering lessons for free for a limited duration. This is to ensure that even if students miss school, they don’t miss out on the daily lessons.

Toppr which is an education app for school students, has announced free access to live classes and video classes. Their live classes and videos will be free for all students until May 2020.

Zishaan Hayath, CEO & Co-Founder, Toppr said, “In view of the evolving situation around COVID-19 Coronavirus outbreak and given that some schools are shut and studies interrupted, we are making Toppr’s live classes completely free for all students in 5th-12th classes.”

Similarly, BYJU’S announced on March 10 that it will be providing free access to its complete app to school students till the end of April. This announcement comes after the government-led advisory for schools to remain closed to safeguard the health of students.

Here, students across classes 1-12 can download and access BYJU’S learning programs for free until the end of April. Students in classes 1-3 can access Math and English lessons while students in classes 4-12 can learn Math and Science concepts on the BYJU’S app.

The same goes for ed-tech players offering higher education programmes.

On March 12, online learning platform Coursera announced that it will provide impacted Indian universities with free access to its course catalog through Coursera for Campus.

Under this initiative, universities can sign up to provide their enrolled students with access to more than 3,800 courses and 400 specialisations from Coursera’s university and industry partners. These institutions will have access until July 31, 2020, after which we plan to provide month-to-month extensions depending on prevailing risk assessments. Students who enroll on or before July 31 will continue to have access until September 30, 2020.

Jeff Maggioncalda, Chief Executive Officer - Coursera, said that the platform is launching this global effort to assist universities and colleges seeking to offer online courseware in response to the coronavirus.”

Over the next few days, Coursera will also hold webinars and share more resources, including experiences from its partner community, to help institutions looking to transition online during this crisis.

Coursera has also been offering these services to other institutes globally. For instance, over the past few weeks, Duke University has been using Coursera for Campus to serve impacted students at their Duke Kunshan campus in China

According to a recent report by UNESCO, about 391.5 million students across 29 countries have been impacted due to the COVID-19 outbreak and the subsequent shutting down of educational institutions. UNESCO is also offering a series of distance education tools to mitigate school closure risks.

As of March 12, a total of 29 countries have shut schools nationwide, impacting almost 391.5 million children and youth. A further 20 countries have implemented localized school closures to prevent or contain the spread of COVID-19. UNESCO said that if these countries also order nationwide school and university closures, it would disrupt the education of more than 500 million additional children and youth.
M Saraswathy
first published: Mar 13, 2020 12:43 pm
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