Making Sense of the Present Moment of ‘Onlinisation’ of Teaching

teachers online learning education

Along with COVID 19 and its associated terminology, we are currently being educated in a new jargon regarding one of the oldest occupations, namely, teaching. We now are told of online learning, e-teaching, edtech, edutech, smartphones in the new role of teacher, and so on and so forth.

India is a large country with a very young population, where almost all households (at least in the urban areas) have some or the other experience with education. But in recent months ‘online classes’ have become a new normal, from the most elementary level, such as teaching nursery rhymes, to the most advanced level – the courses offered to graduate or medical students. Some think that, though the pandemic forced it upon us, this development opens up new possibilities and realms for education; others consider this a temporary phase, after which things would go back to ‘normal’.

The Promise of Online Teaching
How should we view this moment of rampant online teaching? Here we first examine the vision that its proponents have to offer, then critically examine it against our basic conception of education, and finally consider the possible consequences and the contested terrain that this online turn to teaching opens up for anybody associated in one way or the other with education.

Perhaps the promise of onlinisation of teaching is best captured by Sebastian Thrun, one of the early investors in Udacity. (Set up by Stanford professors in 2011, Udacity was a pioneer in Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOC.) Thrun gushed[1], “Imagine you can hand a kid in Africa a tablet and give him Harvard on a piece of glass!” Education, especially higher education, is generally associated with elitism in the name of merit but also high fees that makes it out of reach for sections of the populace who need it the most. As the above quote suggests, ‘online’ promises to reach the best quality education to the most needy at a very cheap price.

And this is not an exceptional expectation from online teaching. There has been a spate of reports in India on the reach and opportunity that online technology offers for the business of education and teaching. Among such reports amidst the pandemic and lockdown, the report this year by RedSeer-Omidyar Network is perhaps the most detailed. Very much in line with Thrun’s excitement, this report concludes[2],

Digital offerings are leading the democratization of education, bridging gaps in access to quality education and addressing key student pain points.

No wonder the New York Times declared 2012 the Year of the MOOC.[3] A few months later, NYT columnist Thomas Friedman was ecstatic about the “budding revolution in global online higher education”. He pronounced that “Nothing has more potential to lift more people out of poverty”.[4] He further emphasised its “potential to unlock a billion more brains to solve the world’s biggest problems”, as “For relatively little money, the US could rent space in an Egyptian village, install two dozen computers and high-speed satellite Internet access, hire a local teacher as a facilitator, and invite -in any Egyptian who wanted to take online courses with the best professors in the world, subtitled in Arabic.” Here is Friedman’s vision in his own words: “I can see a day soon where you’ll create your own college degree by taking the best online courses from the best professors from around the world — some computing from Stanford, some entrepreneurship from Wharton, some ethics from Brandeis, some literature from Edinburgh — paying only the nominal fee for the certificates of completion.”

From the ‘production’ side, critiques have pointed out that education is one of the professions where salaries and/or the prices (college fees[5]) have increased without concomitant rise in the productivity (of teachers[6]). One of the basic tenets of classical economics is that wages are supposedly a reflection of labour productivity, and hence a rise in wages should be related to the concurrent rise in output. Noted economist William Baumol and his associate William Bowen talked about the ‘cost disease’ in the 1960s in the performing arts, and economists have pointed this out to be true for services at large. Perhaps at the top are rising college fees.[7] As economist Richard Vedder provocatively asserted, “teaching is the only profession, with the possible exception of prostitution, where there has been no productivity advance in the 2,400 years since Socrates taught the youth of Athens.”[8] For such people, online teaching offers the hope of increasing the productivity of teachers and providing better linkages between college fees and professor salaries.[9]

This project of bringing so-called efficiencies to the enterprise of teaching is not new. Every time such a vision has been articulated, it has aimed to place technology at the forefront of the ‘revolution’ in education, and to make the role of teachers relatively less important if not marginal, at least for education as a mass product or service.[10]

More than a hundred years ago in the US, with the establishment of a large railroad network in the late 19th century, it was envisioned that the education material could be delivered to every home and best of teachers and colleges could be connected with every nook and cranny in the vast country – not a very different vision from what is being articulated now for the turn to ‘online’. Similar visions and hopes were pronounced later with the mass production and use, first of radio sets and the countrywide radio network in the US, and later with the advent of televisions. Each time the proponents have hoped that this was the right technological breakthrough which would provide access to the neediest of the taught of the best of teachers at the most reasonable costs, facilitated by the new technology – resulting in supplanting of the conventional classrooms. In more recent times, with the arrival of computers, especially as personal computers reached most households in the rich nations, once again the productivity brigade projected their vision that classrooms and teachers could be effectively substituted by the new technology.

With the rise of the global Internet, MIT launched the OpenCourseWare project in 2001 to freely share its course notes, assignments, and video lectures. Then, in 2008, Khan Academy founder Salman Khan uploaded certain instructional videos for mathematics on YouTube. These video lessons gained immediate wide-ranging popularity among the English-speaking world, and Khan was named as one of the TIME’s 100 most influential people for 2012.[11] In 2011 Sebastian Thrun at Stanford shared his Introduction to Artificial Intelligence video lectures freely on the Internet.  They were subscribed to by 160,000 participants in 190 countries across the globe, with the age of participants ranging anywhere from 10 to 70 years.

This immediately caught the imagination of the elite academia in the US. As mentioned earlier, Thrun and two of his Silicon Valley colleagues founded Udacity, a company to deliver online MOOCs, in 2011 itself. MIT and Harvard created edX to deliver their online courses in 2012, while at almost the same time two Stanford computer science professors floated Coursera to offer online courses by universities like Stanford, Princeton and University of Michigan.[12] Many such initiatives began with a promise of free education, very much like free Internet.

Key players in the business of online teaching are convinced that with the present pandemic their moment of glory has finally arrived. Amidst the pandemic, a report by the British investment bank Barclays titled “Education Technology: Out with the Old School” proclaims,[13]

The unprecedented events have put education technology in the spotlight like never before. Educational institutions have closed in 107 countries… The edtech sector has leapt to a prominent position, making it of particular interest to investors… We expect to see governments around the world taking a more favourable view of online learning as a result of the disruption to standard education delivery caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Omidyar RedSeer report[14] the user base for online learning in class 1 to class 12 category (what they call as K1-K12) has doubled to 90 million in the last year. The ‘market’ is supposed to expand more than six times as per their estimates in the next two years to $1.6 billion, while the market for the post-K12 level is expected to grow almost four times to $1.8 billion in the same period.

Recently Gaurav Munjal, co-founder of Unacademy, one of the prominent players in the edtech industry in India, pronounced, “The biggest consumer internet company in India will not be an ecommerce company, but an education company.”[15]  According to DataLabs, a resource centre for start-ups, at present there are 4,450 edtech companies in the country.[16]

It should not be of any surprise, then, with all the bad news about the economic slowdown amidst the prolonged lockdown, company closures and job losses, that money seems to be pouring in for the edtech sector. The valuation of the top player in the online education business in India, BYJU’S, has skyrocketed to more than $12 billion. This means that, as per the latest Forbes list, hardly 25-odd companies which are actually traded on India’s stock market (unlike start-ups like BYJU’S, whose value is only notional) have a market value greater than that of BYJU’S. Interestingly, even an old corporate giant like Tata Steel has a market valuation of only $9 billion![17] So far BYJU’S itself has attracted funding of more than $1 billion. $1.5 billion in funding was raised by edtech start-ups in the first nine months of 2020 amidst the pandemic and lockdown in India, as compared to $409 million in the whole of 2019.[18] Among the eight funding rounds of $100 million (and above) in Indian start-ups during April-September, five involved ed-tech companies[19] with the most well known global and Indian names, like Tiger Global (in BYJU’S), Facebook (in Unacademy), Reliance, Bharti, Omidyar, Blackstone, Softbank, Sequoia, etc. lining up for investments in the online teaching industry.

Before we leave this discussion on the promise of the coming online revolution in education, let us quickly articulate the often-unsaid notion here of what education has come to be defined as by this industry.  Firstly, it is a product that can be delivered piece by piece, canned as a video, often very short ones of less than 10 minutes each. Instead of focusing on an organic interaction between the teacher and the taught, the focus here is on what is called ‘content’— on how can that be standardised as well as made more engaging for the ‘consumer’ (the student).

This has led to the use of a variety of marketing and related techniques, especially as big business has entered the fray. More significantly, it is assumed that all subjects are amenable to be taught online, independent of the specificities of students and/or teachers. Implicit in this technological solution is that all the students can learn through the online mode and all teachers can teach online too. And as the technology gets wider currency, those who cannot teach/learn through it are likely to be deemed incompetent or lacking in will, or will be told that ‘whatever cannot be taught online is not worth teaching/ learning’.

As happens with most technological interventions, the debate about online education gets increasingly restricted to the particular medium/platform, its technicalities, how best to use it, the skills required to use it, etc. As such it goes increasingly away from the process of actual learning and teaching of a subject. Thus even the most critical debate about online education in lockdown times has been restricted to “the digital divide” and the lack of access to network or smartphones[20]. This implies that, in a utopian world of free bandwidth and smartphones, everyone could get the best possible education! Some of the champions of online education may object and tell us that they indeed think about the student and the teacher. However, even when they are concerned about such things, at best their idea of an online class is of a one-to-one interaction between a student and a teacher. Any notion that students also learn from peers, or vicariously from watching others learn, or even learn outside a classroom, is beyond this entire scope of online education.

Concerns Regarding Online Learning and Teaching

Though this piece cannot get into a detailed discussion on what learning and teaching are all about, let us quickly flag a few issues about the learning process that, at least prima facie, online learning does not even touch:

  • Role of peer group in learning: Has learning anything to do with the collective, our peer group with whom we interact inside and outside the classroom? Does being in a collective setting, watching others learn and interact, have something to do with learning? Do some of us, at least sometimes, learn more from our peers than from our teachers?
  • Role of diversity in learning: In a diverse and complex society like ours, students come from so many different backgrounds, not only economic, but also social and cultural; they bring in their own experience and expectations to the class and have their own ways of learning and interacting. One could argue that our classes and colleges ought to be even more diverse, and rightly so. Yet, with all the limitations of the existing colleges, we realise that students learn in so many different ways and means, even in a small class, and we see the variety of abilities, skills and interests that they together bring to make the classroom. What happens to all that in an online mode?
  • Role of equal access to institutional resources: Once students enter a classroom or a college as a physical space, at least there is a theoretical notion that all of them have equal access to institutional resources irrespective of what background they come from. They are supposed to have the same teachers, classrooms, hostels, eating spaces and food, library, health, sports facilities, and so on. Admittedly with commercialisation and privatisation all this is rapidly changing. Nevertheless that situation is qualitatively different from when education is delivered to the students at their own respective private spaces.
  • Opportunity to escape socio-political fetters and disadvantages of ‘homes’ when one physically enters the place of learning: Most of the time such a private space for students (even those in higher education) means the home of their parents. This brings in its own socio-political dynamics, which have been largely ignored in most discussions. The idea of a college also includes the idea of independence, not in just a romantic sense, but with the possibility of at least some freedom from constricting traditions and baggage of the past. This is especially important in our society where family is the first place that loads us with the weights of the established order in the name of tradition and culture, whether it be religion, caste, gender, or a variety of other identities that we are supposedly born with. College has been a place where we could examine such taken-for-granted and overbearing identities, and even find physical and peer space to shed some of those, and acquire a new consciousness and expression. What happens to all those possibilities as students move back to their parents’ homes? Moreover, when one moves to a college from home, one learns to take responsibility and take care of oneself as well as others. Thus, as education moves back to private spaces, there is a double squeeze: on the one hand a young person remains dependent on the family, the family now having to provide for free a whole lot of facilities and services (from connectivity, to physical space, to food, and so on) to a ‘student’ which were earlier to be taken care of by the college!
  • Role of beyond-classroom learning: And finally, what happens to all the learning that is beyond teacher, classroom, course work and even exams, broadly classified as ‘extracurricular’– the sports, arts, culture and other interests that a student picks up as s/he moves out of the small confines of her/his home and school and tries to negotiate a world as a young adult? How will ‘online’ offer spaces for all that?

Inherent in the idea that there is lack of productivity in teaching profession is perhaps the concern that teachers have ‘too much freedom’ in doing their work, and hence they laze around.[21] Though, in fact, there is a huge deficit of democracy in private institutions for the teachers as well as for the students (and in public institutions at least for students, as can be seen in recent clampdowns by authorities inside and outside various public universities in the country), yet this impression goes around thanks to the corporate media.

‘Online’ offers so many new opportunities to control and surveil the labour process of teachers.  They can now be watched and perhaps supervised by parents of the students too; the lectures can be recorded, or recorded lectures become open to public at large to check them, or recorded lectures are amenable to a ‘quality check’ even before they are delivered, as is the case with any other product, and thus censoring of ‘undesirable’ content, especially when it comes to classes and subjects that deal with humans, society and polity beyond the inanimate world. It is often argued that online teaching would reduce the traditionally arbitrary and authoritarian control by teachers of students in classrooms (probably more true for the Indian context). But in the current social context, it probably merely shifts the loci of control to the family and home, which come with their antecedent asymmetries such as gender.

Most even within the education fraternity are likely to dismiss the above concerns as ‘theoretical’ and/ or ‘utopian’. Many who are sympathetic to above concerns may point out, and not illegitimately so, that even the present conventional education system provides little space for the above concerns. For the lack of space here, we will not develop this debate any further, but let us briefly examine the actual practice of ‘online’ from the standards that they themselves had set for it.

Incongruities in Realisation of the Promise of Online Teaching

Given the hype around MOOCs and the reasonable amount of application that it has seen in the last few years, perhaps a good starting point is to see how its practice holds against the promise it began with around a decade back. In a detailed study published in Science last year, Reich and Ruipérez-Valiente[22] looked at data from all MOOCs taught on edX by its founding partners MIT and Harvard from the start of the initiative in October 2012 to May 2018. The dataset included 565 course iterations from 261 different courses, with a combined 12.67 million course registrations from 5.63 million learners.

First and foremost, the dropout rates are really telling: 52 per cent never entered the courseware and left merely after registering. The dropout rates steadily increased over the years. Notably, those who completed a full course have not been more than 5 per cent for most years.[23] Moreover, most of the MOOC learners, even for these elite universities, never returned for a second year enrolment, and the rate of return registration came down to mere 7 per cent by 2017. Despite the claims and expectations that the disadvantaged section of the population who are not able to enter universities would be able to get access to such courses, this study found to the contrary. For instance, in 2012-13, 80 per cent of the edX learners belonged to countries rated with a high or very high UN Human Development Index. The authors conclude, and there is large evidence corroborating this from other sources as well, “Rather than creating new pathways at the margins of global higher education, MOOCs are primarily a complementary asset for learners within existing systems (who mostly already have the requisite background and resources for self learning).” Even Thrun was forced to confess: “the basic MOOC is a great thing for the top 5 percent of the student body, but not a great thing for the bottom 95 percent.[24]

MOOCs started with the promise of free online education, but have travelled quite some distance away from it in a few years’ time. By 2018, all the three pioneers, that is, Udacity, edX as well as Coursera, had begun building paywalls and competing with well-established, for-profit global education corporates, like Pearson and Wiley, in helping established universities outsource their ‘cheaper’ online degrees. The scope of MOOC courses has narrowed down primarily to the domain of saleable degrees that could fetch immediate jobs for the participants and returns for the universities, such as data science, computer programming, business, and related fields. Education as a commercial commodity has been taken to the next level with Udacity offering ‘nanodegrees’ in areas like ‘self-driving car engineering’!

The present vision of those in the business of online education is not very different from what it is for Ola-Uber: that, like a commuter, a potential student can demand what needs to be taught to her anytime and anywhere. For them, there is little difference between e-retail, ecabs, or any such other thing that can be bought or sold. Moreover, such platforms are likely to anticipate the demand in terms of job potential and student searches on Internet and then ask their clients, that is universities and professors, to build products/ content accordingly.

So finally, with e-teaching, a perfect market utopia is on the cards if we go by the vision of such players. In fact, in that case teacher remuneration may also be set according to the viewership that the teacher receives, very much like the so-called YouTubers. The concern raised by Zurich mathematician Paul Dehaye is relevant. (He had to withdraw his course critiquing MOOC from Coursera.)  Will the platforms then determine the terms of engagement, both for the student as well as the teachers, regarding what to teach, how to teach, the nature of certification, and so on?[25]

But to the dismay of those looking forward to the economic efficiencies in education via online, at Udacity it took between 10 to 12 people, and more than $1 million, to build one nanodegree. Further, they still had to provide each student with a personal mentor “who fights for him”, which begs the question as to how it was any different from a conventional classroom with a human teacher?[26] Similarly, a hybrid engineering class at San Jose State University offered with edX reported much better results when these ‘online’ students met face-to-face with instructors three hours each week, but their instructors had to spend significantly more time preparing and evaluating student work than they did in traditional classes.[27] Tellingly, attempts to replace humans with machines did not work in another experiment at the School of Education in the University of Edinburgh, when they tried to bring in a bot-teacher to reply to student questions and spark conversations in a 2014 MOOC delivered by Coursera, but they still almost completely failed to engage the students.[28]

Last year, Thrun was reported to have vented his frustration thus: “In 2018, we didn’t have a single blockbuster.”[29] Within two years of founding Udacity with all the attendant hype, this is what Sebastian Thrun himself had to say about MOOCs: “We were on the front pages of newspapers and magazines, and at the same time, I was realizing, we don’t educate people as others wished, or as I wished. We have a lousy product…”[30]

Online technology had its proponents in disciplines other than physical sciences too. Mitchell Duneier, a sociologist at Princeton, achieved instant MOOC stardom when he offered his sociology course online. His non-credit Coursera class reached 40,000 students from 113 countries during its run in the summer of 2012. “One of the greatest experiences of my career,” Duneier gushed[31], “Within three weeks I had received more feedback on my sociological ideas than I had in a career of teaching”. But when he was asked to franchise his course by Coursera for the lesser colleges and universities in the California state education system, Duneier had a change of heart and he refused. He clarified, “But I also don’t want to be part of a movement that is really about helping state universities achieve cost savings at the expense of their own faculty and students.” In spite of all his instant MOOC stardom, he was very clear that such online courses could not be a reasonable substitute for good teachers and educational institutions.

If education is more than offering ‘content’, then online education is very far from a serious teacher’s idea of reasonable education. As Reich and Ruipérez-Valiente conclude in their study of edX: “The 6-year saga of MOOCs provides a cautionary tale for education policy-makers facing whatever will be the next promoted innovation in education technology, be it artificial intelligence or virtual reality or some unexpected new entrant. New education technologies are rarely disruptive but instead are domesticated by existing cultures and systems. Dramatic expansion of educational opportunities to under-served populations will require political movements that change the focus, funding, and purpose of higher education; they will not be achieved through new technologies alone (emphasis added).”[32],[33]

Given the global crisis in every aspect of our lives that really matters, as educationists we need a better vision than education being merely a piece of commerce, whether through a textbook or through any new technology since the invention of printing. It will not be inappropriate to end this piece with the response of Columbia University professor Marianne Hirsch[34], president of the Modern Language Association of America, to Friedman’s vision of education (discussed earlier): “If we want a better-educated global citizenry, should we not foster a multitude of professors with different views who can share deep critical thinking in a community of learners such as only the embodied experience of the classroom can yield? Rather than renting space and computers in Egyptian villages, let us train teachers, lower costs of higher education and widen its reach, in American cities and Egyptian villages alike.”

Like so many other aspects of our lives plagued with false narratives, onlinisation of education is not even the real issue. If we want to address the looming crisis of education, which plagues its every aspect and level, then let us debate the real issues.

[1] “Udacity’s Sebastian Thrun, Godfather of Free Online Education, Changes Course”, Max Chafkin, Fast Company, 14/11/13. accessed on 02/10/2020.

[2] “EdTech in India”, An Omidyar Network India & RedSeer Report, June 2020. accessed on 02/10/2020.

[3] “The Year of the MOOC”, Laura Pappano, New York Times, Nov. 2, 2012. accessed on 02/10/2020.

[4] “Revolution Hits the Universities”Thomas L. FriedmanNew York Times, Jan. 26, 2013 accessed on 02/10/2020.

[5]  Note that this issue comes into play only if a student has to pay for her education, which is increasingly true of most of the world, and especially of countries like US and most of the Third World. But this may not be relevant for times when the State promised free education, or for places like Cuba even today, where education is considered a public good with a whole range of associated positive externalities for society.

[6] Meaning here, catering to more students with fewer teachers.

[7] Baumol’s Cost Disease, Wikepedia accessed on 04/10/2020.

[8] “Universities: Then And Now”, Richard Vedder, Forbes, Aug. 25 2017. accessed on 4/10/2020.

[9] Here we have not contested the assumption that teacher salaries are rising, which completely ignores the kind of diversity that prevails in colleges in terms of the resources that they have, whether in India or the US, and even the increasing phenomenon of hiring of temporary teachers or rising administrative and other non teaching expenses in the colleges. That is beyond the scope of this piece, but see this for a brief critique: “Online Education and the ‘Cost Disease’”, Henry Reichman, aaup, Nov-Dec 2013. accessed on 3/10/2020. In 2013, 76 per cent of American university faculty were reported to be on adjunct positions; while for tenured faculty annual salaries could top $160,000, adjunct professors made an average of $2,700 per course and received no health care or other benefits, not even an office to work or a home to stay! (“Academia’s indentured servants”, Sarah Kendzior, 11/4/2013, accessed on 14/12/2020)

[10] “Udacity’s Sebastian Thrun”, op. cit.

[11] Khan Academy, Wikipedia accessed on 05/10/2020.

[12] “MOOCs Are Dead. Long Live Online Higher Education”, Phil Hill, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Aug. 26, 2016. accessed on 05/10/2020.

[13] “Education Technology: Out with the Old School”, Barclays Investment Bank, 08/4/2020. accessed on 05/10/2020.

[14] “EdTech in India”, op. cit.

[15] “India’s biggest consumer Internet company will be an education company, says Gaurav Munjal of Unacademy”, Debolina Biswas, YourStory, 15/5/2020. accessed on 5/10/2020.

[16] “Learning on tap: As education moves online, how edtech boom is here to stay”

Amrita SinghBusiness Standard, September 8, 2020. accessed on 31/10/2020

[17] List of largest companies in India, Wikipedia accessed on 05/10/2020.

[18] “Byju’s in talks for fresh $200 million fund-raise at $12 billion valuation”, Digbijay Mishra, 23/11/2020’s,aware%20of%20the%20matter%20said accessed on 16/12/2020.

[19] “Education tech firms corner almost all $100 mn bracket funds post Covid”, Pranav Mukul, Sandeep Singh, Indian Express, 19/10/2020. accessed on 27/10/2020.

[20] Of course one cannot overstate the distress that lack of resources can cause and in this case lack of laptop/ smartphones, etc. has led to at least 16 student suicides in six months including of Aishwarya Reddy of LSR as per the media reports (“LSR student’s suicide shows how the pandemic has deepened inequality and apathy in education”Samyak Jain16/11/2020 accessed on 16/12/2020).

[21] We are likely to be told that, ‘such is human nature’.

[22] “The MOOC pivot”, Justin Reich & José A. Ruipérez-Valiente, Science, 11 Jan 2019, Vol. 363, Issue 6423, pp. 130-131.

[23] With all the hope and hype associated with the best of MOOCs, this is the real outcome, even in terms of low expectations of going through the video lectures and fulfilling minimal certification requirements.

[24] “The MOOC Experiment”, Mariappan JawaharlalHuffPost, 03/18/2015. accessed on 27/10/2020.

[25] MOOC Platforms, Surveillance, and Control, Paul-Olivier Dehaye, aaup, Sep-Oct. 2016. accessed on 30/10/2020.

[26] Sebastian Thrun initiates aggressive plan to transform Udacity, Kirsten Korosec, February 23, 2019. accessed on 14/10/2020.

[27] “Online Education and the ‘Cost Disease’”, op. cit.

[28] “Not Even Teacher-Bots Will Save Massive Open Online Courses”, Derek Newton, Forbes, August 22, 2018.  accessed on 31/10/2020.

[29] Note the Hollywood like word play here! (Source: ibid.)

[30] Udacity’s Sebastian Thrun, op. cit.

[31] “A Star MOOC Professor Defects—at Least for Now”, Marc Parry, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Sep. 3, 2013. accessed on 15/10/20.

[32] The MOOC pivot, op. cit.

[33] This was acknowledged even by global tech icon Steven Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computers and a man who claimed to have “spearheaded giving away more computer equipment to schools than anybody else on the planet.” Jobs opined: “What’s wrong with education cannot be fixed with technology… No amount of technology will make a dent…. You’re not going to solve the problems by putting all knowledge onto CD-ROMs. We can put a Web site in every school — none of this is bad. It’s bad only if it lulls us into thinking we’re doing something to solve the problem with education.” “The Computer Delusion”, Todd Oppenheimer, The Atlantic, July 1997., accessed on 14/12/2020

[34] “New York Times tracks and highlights the evolution of massive open online courses”, Steven T. CorneliussenPhysics Today, 1 Feb 2013. accessed on 2/10/20.

[35] This piece is an outcome of discussions with the group that began conversation on crisis in education as we plunged into lockdown and online mode, special thanks to Manali, Suchitra and RUPE editors for their helpful suggestions and comments on earlier drafts.

Rahul Varman teaches at IIT Kanpur (rahulv[at]

Originally published in Rupe India




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