It is a busy Monday morning, though not one which would have been during the ‘pre-corona’ days. This one is during the ‘lockdown 3.0’, a term coined by one of the editors of the private television channels or so I presume, and which has been religiously used by the media.
By 9.30 am, the house is buzzing with activity. Classes are on for my 9-year-old and Zoom meetings start up in almost every room of my house!
Each family member confines themselves to one room, so that they are effective in their virtual world. Survival, you know, right?
Online classes for my children required my supervision and assistance and this lead me to think if I was alone in this battle to master the technology and adapt to the change.
I spoke to a few children between ages 8 and 14 and they gave me a different perspective altogether.
While one said they missed being seated on a bench, others missed the school ambience and a few others said they missed the presence of their teacher.
The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown have not been easy for children. From being confined to the house to attending online classes, their challenges are many.
On a positive note, online classes help students and teachers to keep in touch with each other and also ensure that academic learning never stops. Alternatively, some believe that the online classes help the school management justify fee collection during this period.
A parent who wished to remain anonymous said, “students, parents and teachers face a lot of technological issues. Teachers focus mostly on completing the [syllabus] portions. Even though students ask questions, they take a lot of time to adapt to technology. I feel interaction between teachers and students has decreased. Imagine the plight of working parents who have to juggle between their own meetings and the online classes.”
Eight-year-old Aadhya who attends online classes every morning says that staring at the screen for long makes her bored.
“I keep changing positions while attending classes. While my mother thinks I am restless, I do so because I am not comfortable in any of the chairs that are at home. The teacher gives way too much work and it is stressing me out,” she says.
Padmashree Ramesh, a senior teacher, finds time to talk to us amidst her busy schedule of online classes and domestic compulsions. “We don’t know how many of the students are attentive and have understood the concepts. Earlier we could gauge just based on their looks. This is difficult in online classes,” she adds.
Teachers also have their own share of problems. One among them is to put on a balancing act between personal and professional lives as they work from home. Who would have imagined this four months ago?
“Phone calls and ringing doorbells are hurdles that need to be handled. On the technical front, there are [Internet] connectivity issues. Sometimes, the assignments we send don’t reach the students. Power cuts are also an issue,” Mrs Ramesh adds.
She emphasizes on the fact that the main lifeline of teaching - ‘classroom ambience’ is missing in the online classes. Another issue she raises is the lack of face-to-face interactions with her colleagues. She opines that planning lessons over phone or group video call is definitely not the same as face-to-face discussions on school premises.
Another teacher who wished not to be named says, “Lessons have to be planned, classes have to be taught, assignments have to be uploaded, completed assignments have to be checked, sessions have to be uploaded online…the list goes on. We are trying our best. Parents, teachers and students have to work together in this time of crisis. We have little choice.”
I saw one social media forward which highlighted how we need not turn this lockdown period into yet another rat race. It was an interesting perspective, but I don’t how many will agree to this. We have to maintain our cool and sanity which is equally, if not more, important than making the lockdown period productive.
“There are no online classes per se for my 11- year and 12-year old children. Worksheets are given on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes they study out of their own will. I don’t force them to do it. I feel that their world is disturbed, and I don’t want to add fuel to the fire,” Sathya, a home maker says.
Sathya admits that not many parents that she knows of think the way she does.
The next pertinent question that we need to ask is if online education can reach students from different walks of life. Should we believe that it can reach students from the lower strata of the society as well?
Newspaper reports suggest that as per the data collected by the National Sample Survey (NSS) under the Survey on Education (2014), only 27% of the households in India have a family member with access to internet. Also, access to Internet and owning a computing device are two different things. So, ultimately, only 12.5% of the households of students in India have Internet access at home. This scenario further changes from state to state, which again is a challenge that the governments must brainstorm and find a solution for.
Though decision makers, policy makers, parents and educationists are divided on various issues pertaining to education, the truth is we have to survive through this pandemic and beyond and online classes is the new normal which needs to be accepted. Challenges are aplenty and we cannot stop seeking solutions.
Preetha Kadhir is an independent journalist who has worked in national and international newspapers. She loves to teach and interact with students. Her wish list for the world is long.