Classroom is not for Learning

Rohan D’Souza

The New Education Policy (NEP) does not look to build on existing strengths in higher education. Instead, its aim is total disruption: a drastic modification in the meaning of higher education itself and the facilitation of edtech. At the heart of the edtech investment in online technologies is the call to disrupt the ‘aura’ of the classroom.

Historically, the classroom lies at the very core of the learning endeavour of the modern university and college. Ideally, the classroom lecture format aims to co-evolve the understanding of the teacher and student through interactions around ideas. It draws the teacher and the student into an intellectual entanglement, that gets further circled with questions, doubts, and contingent claims. The classroom is thus not just a physical space to synchronise teacher-student interactions, but it is literally ‘the’ place where learning as a social activity happens.

In contrast to the ‘analogue’ classroom, the edtech strategy for online learning is fundamentally driven by an ‘algorithmic architecture’ and by ‘business models’. The pedagogical philosophy that underlies such corporate assembled online courses is ‘datafication and personalisation’. The chief claim of edtech companies is that they can curate customised education by deploying artificial intelligence, teaching analytics, cloud computing and learning apps. Edtech companies view learning as individual-centric, customised and steered by predictive analytics—algorithms that can replace the teacher’s professional judgement with ‘learnification’. The learnification paradigm is the belief that "learning can be managed, monitored, controlled and ultimately modified in each student’s personal mind" through a customised algorithm that tracks, maps and stores information on their abilities, emotional states and psychological dispositions.

The much talked up customised education products involves training the user-student with algorithms while continually collecting the latter’s data exhaust. Every digital indent, in the form of a like button, an emoji, a quiz, a survey or a click adds to the assembling of the user-student’s behavioural-psychological profile, which in the absence of legal protection, can be turned into an exclusively owned raw material to be repurposed by the platform. Abstract automated instructions of Artificial Intelligence (AI) are designed to train and modulate an individual for the passive acquisition of skills, which is in stark contrast to learning as a social activity that involves critical thinking.

In tandem with the aim for individualised passive skill acquisition, the NEP has also been insistent in advocating for a ‘multiple entry and exit’. A single year at college would be enough to earn a certificate. If you clear two years, a diploma could be acquired, finish three years to get a degree and push for a fourth to get a multidisciplinary bachelor’s degree. The student could weave in and out of different colleges by doing different years at different points of time. Facilitating these multiple exits and entries will be an Academic Bank of Credit (ABC) that would digitally store all the course credits and make them somehow commensurable even when earned from different higher education institutions across several years.

At heart, flexibility and 'multiple entry and exit' are as much about dismantling the integrity of the classroom as it is about destroying the very idea of achieving group solidarity through learning. Moreover, the many social and financial reasons why a student is forced to discontinue or compelled to abandon the programme midway will no longer be addressed. Instead, the reverse will play out, where compulsions (financial, gender, caste or otherwise) to drop out from college can now be officially normalised as issues of individual choice.

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Vol 55, No. 6, Aug 7 - 13, 2022