Student ‘all-weather friend’ online coaching, here to stay: Experts

The COVID-19 lockdown came as a ‘shock’ for Sakshi Sharma as coaching courses and schools abruptly closed amid her preparations for NEET medical exams, leaving her worried she would have to wait a year to retake the test .

However, after a few days of confinement, Sharma and his friends had found an alternative in online courses, which experts say will remain “an all-weather friend” not only for students preparing for competitions like the National Eligibility cum Entry Test (NEET), but also for providing education in general about the new normal brought about by COVID-19.

“It (the lockdown) was a shock… Me and many others like me didn’t know what to do. We were preparing for the exam and the thought of wasting a year was terrifying. But my friends and I immediately focused on online coaching and were well prepared in September,” Sharma, from Chandigarh, told PTI by phone.

She took the NEET in September, after the exam, for admission to MBBS, BDS and other undergraduate medical courses, was postponed twice from her scheduled date of May 3 to July 26 and then to September 13 by the National Testing Agency in view of the covid19 Pandemic.

The Center had announced a nationwide 21-day lockdown from March 25 to control the spread of the coronavirus. However, from June 8, the government began to gradually ease the restrictions under “Unlock”.

The number of those signing up for virtual classes has seen an exponential increase and the trend is expected to continue, education industry experts said. Like NEET, other exams that were scheduled in the months of April and May were also initially postponed, but later the Center decided to hold them under strict COVID-19 measures to ensure that students do not miss an academic year.

“The coronavirus pandemic brought various sectors to a standstill and students were stuck in limbo,” said Kapil Gupta, founder and CEO of NEETprep, a leading online coaching center. ‘Left with little choice, the nervous lot moved on to online learning which was unaffected by the lockdown,’ he said referring to Sharma and friends taking virtual classes for NEET .

Immediately after the lockdown, students were anxious as they had been studying for months and didn’t want to lose momentum before exams. But at the same time, they were cautious about attending classrooms due to fear of COVID-19, Gupta said.

“That’s why online classes are a godsend because suddenly they (students) didn’t have to worry about wearing a mask or maintaining social distance… Online coaching has become a big hit, especially among those preparing for NEET and JEE exams by proving to be their savior during the COVID crisis,” he said.

Gupta said that while the COVID-19 situation has certainly provided online platforms with an opportunity to gain greater reach in a short period of time, in the long run it would be important for those offering this service to present themselves as a credible alternative not only in terms of cost but also of effectiveness.

“I believe it is established that the quality of content (lectures or questions or mock tests) is much better than classroom coaching, but the aspect of enforcing discipline among students without a physical classroom is a challenge,” Gupta said.

Coaching centers such as NEETprep and others have created special lesson modules for students from all over the country after giving due consideration to their needs, he said. “We put 50% of our effort into thinking about developing the right communication and product features that will motivate students to keep pace, set goals, and not give up,” Gupta said.

Endorsing the Centre’s decision to hold entrance exams, Gupta said the percentage of students who passed NEET this year has increased, with the top earning a perfect score of 720 after talking about online courses.

“We expect over 550 students to enter the coveted government medical schools this year and this number speaks to our success in this aspect of discipline and motivation,” he said.

Some experts have said that the future of learning is online and if coaching institutes want to survive, they must take this into account.

“Situations like the COVID-19 lockdown are accelerators of a paradigm shift. Saved time, expanded content and more faculty availability are pushing students towards online coaching,” said Anil Dhall, Head of Cardiology Department at Janakpuri Super Specialty Hospital.

“Gradually, all conventional coaching centers will have to offer online coaching if they want to survive,” Dhall, a keen observer of the medical education system, told PTI.

Delhi-based ICA Edu Skills CEO Ankit Shyamsukha said embracing the new normal was the only way forward.

“With COVID, we have seen many sectors embrace technology like never before. In India, coaching prior to March 24, 2020 was very personal in nature; COVID-19 has forced the majority of institutes to turn to technology to continue services. The reviews only proved the long-term viability of the technology change and also highlighted the adaptive power of the next generation,” he said.

RL Raina, Vice Chancellor of JK Lakshmipat University in Jaipur, said online coaching is also giving a major boost to the country’s income.

The global online education market is expected to be valued at $319.167 billion by 2025, up from $187.877 billion in 2019, he said.

“With North America holding the largest market share, Asia-Pacific (APAC) countries including China, India, Malaysia, and South Korea are expected to witness the fastest regional growth “, did he declare.

“Against this, India’s online education market was valued at INR 39 billion in 2018 and is expected to reach INR 360.3 billion by 2024 according to a report,” Raina said.

So, while the sheer number coupled with a large English-speaking population makes India an impressive market, it needs to be upgraded in terms of digital infrastructure, teacher and student skills, and support for a large number of numerically disadvantaged people, he added.

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