Agastya is a grade X student at the Shri Ram School, Moulsari. He is passionate about the future of education and curious about the science of learning. Appointed as the Young Adobe India Ambassador, Agastya is also the founder of The Cloud Canvas, a digital learning platform for high school creatives. The platform is built on a belief that the new world will be powered by creative thinking and his platform aspires to curate such skills in high schoolers across the world. Agastya is excited about culinary art, is an MMA practitioner, and in his spare time – an avid photographer!
The last two years have completely redefined learning. Even today, two-thirds of learners globally are still studying in a virtual environment. Business leaders, Ed-tech entrepreneurs, and even politicians boldly announced that learning can thrive without educational institutions to house it. However, this isn’t the first time the notion of a physical classroom has been challenged. In the mid-1920s, the rise of radio led people to proclaim the death of the classroom, with countless universal radio universities coming up on the radar. Within a decade, the number of university stations fell from 128 to 49, and in another decade, even those few disappeared. In the 1950s, expectations soared for televisions to become the new gleaming medium for education—they met a similar fate. None of these developments had any bearing on the relevance of schools, in fact, the number of schools globally only grew exponentially. Even MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) seemed to threaten the existence of an institution, yet, due to their lack of engagement and 5% completion rate, they retained a small slice of the education industry.
As logical and imminent as it sounds, why have technological advances only manifested themselves as supplementary tools instead of viable substitutes? The answer lies beyond the static facts and figures of software and in the significance of human relationships inside the classroom. From the relationship between a teacher and student, to even peer-to-peer interactions, these dynamics lie at the core of learning, and unfortunately, are given peripheral importance in digital learning solutions.
As a student who’s witnessed the rise of social media, cryptocurrencies, and now NFTs, I believe in the power of technology. When the pandemic first hit my city, I genuinely believed that digital learning would not only be able to bridge the gap of missing in-person school but go above and beyond to make the learning process more efficient and effective. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Despite having the most capable and well-intentioned faculty, the finest Ed-Tech tools, and the right devices, the spirit of being inside a classroom was completely amiss. The fact that I had just changed schools before the virtual shift only made this learning environment worse. I realized how many of my meaningful experiences were valuable due to the in-class discussions I had with my friends and out-of-class conversations with my teacher. My learning was amplified by the two-way relationships I had with the people around me instead of the relatively passive one-way absorption I had in a virtual classroom. Online learning, instead of empowering my class, made the transition for students like me from a different curriculum even harder, driving a divide between me and my classmates.
After a year of virtual learning, I’ve realized that our ability to absorb and assimilate is directly controlled by our environment. A large segment of our learning process demands interpersonal engagement, the ability to reason well and critique. These ideas are as crucial in the creative learning journey as they are in STEM fields. Beyond academics, in the real world, problem-solving requires an ability to appreciate and understand team dynamics. Making friends, developing leadership skills, delivering in a position of responsibility all require interactions grounded in the real world. At my school, we are taught to put four values at the heart of our education: Sensitivity, Integrity, Pride in One’s Heritage, and the Pursuit of Excellence. I experienced these values not while sitting at home, or taking an exam, or inside my textbooks, but rather in the experiences I’ve had in its nurturing environment—from sitting with my peers in the lunch halls and walking down its corridors.
Yes, virtual solutions, interactions, and educational solutions have developed significantly over time and improve each day. However, until we incorporate the social-emotional elements of learning what it truly feels like to study in a classroom into digital solutions, the value of in-person remains unmatched.
Perhaps the promise of technology can be harnessed better in a blended format, but that’s a topic for another day. For now though, I can’t wait to head back to in–person school – see you soon!