Why e-learning Platforms Cannot Replace Traditional Schooling

Student voice: Kunal Ganorkar, ESSEC Business School, draws on his experience to open the debate on e-learning versus traditional schooling.

Kunal Ganorkar, Business Intelligence and Strategy Analyst at Aptar Stelmi, and Masters in Management student at ESSEC Business School, draws on his experience of synchronous and asynchronous learning to make a case for the school and classroom experience.   

Picture this:

It’s 8:10 in the morning, the principal steps up the altar to conclude the morning prayers and after a few encouraging words followed by disciplinary announcements, the students disperse, line by line, back to their classrooms. Each designated teacher takes control of a 40 strong class of 9th grade students and begins another day revolving around algebra, mitochondria and ketones.

Now picture this:

It’s 8:10 am, a student is woken up by his parents to eat a hasty breakfast and switch on a square screen of prime digital real estate. The child proceeds to spend the rest of the day in front of that screen having similar intellectual interactions with trained professionals.

Do you think this could really replace our conventional educational practices?

Many e-learning platforms seem to think so. And why shouldn’t they? There are so many arguments to make in their favour – they bring world class education to your doorstep. It’s virtually flawless and convenient, and the child gets 1 to 1 attention in most of the cases as opposed to the 40 to 1 ratio that is enjoyed in most of the learning institutions in schooling. The perfect learning situation? An argument can be made for the same. I will not delve into the quality of teachings delivered in either of the mediums as it is a subjective matter. Instead I want to highlight the underlying benefits of a conventional education that seem to go unnoticed otherwise.  

Identity economics as a possible answer

In the course of my readings, I chanced across a particular book titled Identity Economics by George A. Akerlof (Nobel laureate) and Rachel E. Kranton that discusses on the topic of identifying with social groups as part of an economic system. The book speaks about how schooling is beyond just learning subjects and topics in order to increase knowledge or to increase your subsequent income as an educated professional.

Particularly as a school-going child, the student is in his/her ‘formative years ’– the mind is ready to be shaped and moulded and is easily influenced. The child absorbs the majority of everything that is written on the blackboard in the classroom. But that’s not all. The child picks up everything else that’s going on around him/her as well. You will find that any good school out there will boast of the culture that it endorses, the discipline or the kind of nurturing it promotes. Irrespective of what form it is in, it is this practice that is key in shaping an individual. Several companies that recruit fresh individuals today prioritise these intrinsic values over extrinsic knowledge, that can be easily learnt on the job. As such, intrinsic values hold greater importance over knowledge.

Drop out rates and the havoc on the economy

Ever since education was introduced, we have been troubled by the rate at which students drop out of school. Economically, a student who drops out is more likely to remain unemployed or if employed, earn lower wages and pay lower taxes leading to an overall downturn in the economy of a country. And we cannot begin to fathom the deteriorating impact a drop out can have on the economy if he or she chooses to walk down a nefarious path.

A good school a sanctuary

For a regular school-going child this issue of dropping out could be traced to the fact that the student is not intrinsically motivated to complete school or is extrinsically influenced by factors such as demotivating factors at home or neighbourhood. A good school can provide sanctity and help pull the child through these different forms of demotivation. It can create a nurturing environment for the student and foster brotherhood amongst classmates and a pseudo family-like environment where each student pushes the other student to succeed and do well in life. The teacher, apart from imparting education also imparts a secure environment and a safety net for the students that suffer from demotivating forces that pull them down. Wearing uniforms and emphasis on discipline and values creates a shared belonging and sense of association that makes the student feel like he or she isn’t alone in this. A student who finally ends up relating with his batchmates is more likely to perform at least at par with his peers. In the case of a good school, this performance is naturally good and builds a student for success who otherwise would have given in to the other vices of society.

Of course, I admit that not all of us are privileged enough to have access to good education. A good school may not even offset other factors such as financial issues or one-off crises that much of the population succumbs to. However, the numbers still stand against MOOCs (Massive open online courses). In India for starters, up till the age of 15, we see an average dropout rate of 17%. And if you compare it to the other mediums, dropout rates for MOOCs are at nearly 50% for students aged under 15 in 2015. Even if you could push a student through the course using various means like gamification or engrossing content, the student still doesn’t receive the nurturing that I addressed above.

After all is said and done, and much in line with TC Chopras and Forbes insights on the question, I believe that MOOC platforms or other e-learning tools should be used as a supplementary tool only and not a complete replacement for the institutional learning platform, at least in the formative years, that we all have grown up with. The bottom line is that countries must strive to provide access to quality educational institutes for all.

Why e-learning Platforms Cannot Replace Traditional Schooling, by Kunal Ganorkar, Business Intelligence and Strategy Analyst at Aptar Stelmi, and Masters in Management student at ESSEC Business School.
Kunal Ganorkar

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