For schools, conducting online classes has become a question of survival.
All stakeholders – school managements, teachers, students, and parents – were caught unaware and largely unprepared amid the pandemic.
Most parents are adamant that since the child has not gone to school, they need not pay the fee. Managements claim that they do not have funds to pay teachers and staff salaries, leave alone invest in new training, software, and content which will equip schools to deal with the situation more efficiently.
Salary deductions, potential layoffs, and mental blocks towards technology are making it difficult for teachers to put in their best or learn new skills. With new restrictions on teaching hours, to limit screen time, it is likely that more teacher dismissals are in the offing, as many of them will not be needed. Many schools will simply collapse and close.
There is so much pressure to conform to the online teaching “solution” that schools across all socio-economic levels are attempting to do this. The online class movement has bared the digital divide like nothing else before, including for students from the economically weaker sections.
Many families do not own laptops or even smartphones and a proper access to the internet. The consequences can sometimes be tragic as brought out by a student suicide in Kerala – because she could not attend online classes.
New Level, Newer Problems
For teachers who thrive on active student responses, teaching into a camera feels like teaching to a wall. Even experienced teachers are at a loss with respect to content and technique.
At the pre-primary level, education entails learning skills from another person, co-playing, sharing, learning to differentiate appropriate and inappropriate behaviour with others, and most importantly, establishing emotional bonds. Online education is hardly able to touch these issues.
The teacher-child relationship now has a new guest – the parent as s/he assists the child to practically “take” the class. There are interactions like, “You didn’t praise my child enough …” or “Don’t you talk to my child like this …”.
At the primary level (classes 1 to 5), the practical issues remain the same as mentioned above. The situation is becoming messier by the day with some governments issuing orders that no online classes can be held for students up to class 5. But for how long?
The crisis is nowhere near its end. There are protests by parents that such orders be withdrawn. Indeed, these are formative years when children pick up cognitive, linguistic, and numeric skills rapidly. So a connection with school is essential.
Older children (typically classes 6 onwards) automatically tend to wean themselves from parental assistance and become independent agents in the teaching-learning process.
Yet, there exists a sizeable number of children who need that extra push and prod, which a digital ecosystem fails to provide. For some children, the absence of an adult watching over them makes them meander away from the teacher and the lesson.
At more senior levels, many children try to outsmart the teacher, and employ creative, devious ways to disturb the class. On occasions, a student enters the class with a false name and disturbs the session by writing or posting inappropriate messages.
Some children cite “internet connectivity” as the reason for bunking classes – even when it is not true. Parallel chats between students have to be constantly monitored. Teachers often take their time in discovering these behavior patterns.
Charity Begins With Reduced Syllabus?
Children today are natives to this technology and digital culture, while parents and teachers are still learning and adapting to it. It is evident that a new ethic for digital classes is needed, which enables teachers to deal with these novel behavioral and discipline issues, defines the role and responsibilities of parents, and sensitises students towards practising higher levels of accountable behavior.
Some preliminary attempts to redefine these roles are utterly unrealistic. The Alternate Academic Calendar released by NCERT suggests that parents be involved quite deeply in the teaching process – rather than just a supervisory role.
This proposal simply ignores the education level of the parents, their ability to guide, and the logistical issue of taking out time from their own schedules.
The regular testing and assessment tools need to be completely re-thought and re-designed for the online mode. In the race to score more, children may often cheat or copy. New apps for “Examination and Testing” are coming up that seek to adapt policing and monitoring techniques of the exams conducted in a physical classroom.
However, this is a good opportunity to develop a new assessment framework that has been much talked about in the past few years, in the context of overcoming rote learning. One that uses fewer proctored exams, but more continuous evaluation with an emphasis on “thinking and conceptual” questions which can be answered from home.
This is also an opportune moment to reign in the amount of material that is covered in our curricula. Our policymakers have tended to equate quantity with quality, so that a “better” syllabus is one that has more topics. This has now reached ridiculous levels and we over-teach extensively at all levels.
A reasonably reduced syllabus can be designed in a meaningful manner, and we can begin with the non-board classes.
Some of the practices relating to online teaching will survive in the post-COVID world, given that policymakers are obsessed with technological solutions for enhancing educational “access” and “equity”. The more affluent schools may well move to a new “blended” equilibrium.
But in the vast number of less fortunate schools, millions of children may be deprived of a real education, with its substitution by a dysfunctional digital system. The state needs to urgently bridge the gaping digital divide to ensure that this does not happen.
(Dr. Anshu Deshmukh is a Principal in a reputed school in Indore. She has been in the field of education for more than twenty years. During this time, she has worked in a range of different capacities such as that of a teacher, counsellor and Principal. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed in this article are that of the writer’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.) )