Opinion | Covid-19 upheaval in teaching

Joseph Mathew

The schools in India were among those sectors which were left confused and disoriented in the crisis. The first reaction of a full and complete lockdown by the government taken for the safety of its people left the schools in a dilemma

Not in my wildest and most tantalizing dreams did I expect myself to be in pyjamas, working from home for the bulk of 2020 & 21, I am sure neither did you.

Life was going at a pace, with a momentum that has been building up since the beginning of industrial revolution, to which COVID-19 pulled the chain without prior warning and the life we knew came to a screeching halt.

Multinational corporate companies to roadside tea stalls were affected, the damage and loss might vary from business to business, but I am sure everyone would agree that it was a setback for all.

IT sector might be one area where they had an idea about how they could tackle the situation even if the offices had to remain closed. They had been experimenting with WFH (Work from Home) on a shift basis for quite some time but was reluctant to take the next step, which is putting 80% of their staff to permanently work from home. With the lockdown, the companies could see it was not a bad idea after all. Tech giants like Facebook and Twitter have already announced that their staff can work from home forever.

The schools in India were among those sectors which were left confused and disoriented in the crisis. The first reaction of a full and complete lockdown by the government taken for the safety of its people left the schools in a dilemma. Unlike most foreign schools, Indian schools do not have much experience with the online mode of teaching. Working as a management intern at a school, my own experience about the radical phase shift our school went through in a short time was exhilarating. what is the impact it is going to have on the future generations of our country? Has anyone given enough thought about what the lasting effects will be for our education system?

The Indian education system has drawn both positive and negative criticism in the past. Negative, based on the stress on the students and the immense load they carry. Students do not always get to choose what they really want until it’s too late to make a choice. The one thing we do right is the student-student interactions and the teacher-student relations and that’s what took the blow during the lockdown. The confidence level that Indian students display, compared to other students in foreign universities is an example of how good an experience we get, during our long years at school, to manage peers and make good relations with teachers.

Amidst all the news about lockdowns and restrictions imposed worldwide, what caught my attention was a report from Reuters, about how Sweden decided to keep their schools open during the pandemic. Yes! They closed down their factories and industries but kept their schools open! Sweden with a GDP rank of 23 in 2019, which is said to be one of the most developed Scandinavian countries, decided that even during this panic, schools must remain open and not their factories.

On the other hand, we here in India has reopened most of the production and consumer fields whilst our schools are still on the waiting list. According to UNESCO “education is not a cost, it’s an investment for recovery”, it would be appreciable if the authorities focused more on how to open up schools again.

Debates are still going on as to whether the decision to keep the schools open contributed to the covid case buildup in those countries, but what we should appreciate is their willingness to recognize education as the prime focus at a time of crisis.

What next?

Thanks to the vaccines, hopefully, we are all looking forward to opening up schools for the 2022-23 academic year. Once that happens, what happens to the past 2 years of teaching methodology? Do we just go back to our earlier ways and forget what these two years have taught us? Do we scrap the efforts of a lot of people who enabled the learning to go online and go back to physical classrooms?

According to a study in the US, "the school closures have forced many schools to “think outside the box” and come up with innovative and pragmatic solutions in order to deliver teaching and ensure learning can happen remotely." The teachers for one, have improvised on their part. Senior teachers who had taken only physical classes all their life, where they can look into the face of kids had to shift online overnight. If not for COVID, I am not sure if they would have been ready for this change.

Even if they change, it will take a considerable amount of time to make them comfortable and tech-savvy. But now this being a necessity, it just clicked right in.

I would not be wrong to assume the learning-teaching process will change drastically post Covid.

Schools should develop a system in which physical classes and online classes can go hand in hand.

In my opinion, until the virus spread is eradicated completely, only half the class strength should be brought to class while the other half can learn online simultaneously. The live

class can be streamed to the students sitting at home by placing an HD camera in class and a Bluetooth headset with a mic for the teacher. For schools looking to invest more, LED touch panels can be kept in classrooms replacing chalkboards, which will enable the teacher to screen share the board to remote learners.

In case a student who is coming to school shows symptoms or is unwell he can continue the classes from home.

All the assignments, homework’s, notes etc. should be done via online platforms such as Google classroom etc. Exams, test papers and other assessments can be done in physical classrooms. The attendance should be calculated separately, with a minimum requirement of physical class attendance along with online session attendance too.

If we succeed in maintaining this balance between online and offline classes, we can also tackle a lot of problems that schools in India face, such as unexpected hartals etc. This will help us in getting more working days for the school.

If after all this, we go back to our old ways not learning anything. We will fall behind and it would not be easy to make this climb once more.

(The writer is a member of the management board of the School of The Good Shepherd, Akkulam, Thiruvananthapuram. He can be reached at josephmathewk@goodshepherdtvm.com or 9447080878)

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