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What teachers and students learned in the pandemic year

“Corona imposed circumstances taught me education is not transmission,” said Uttam Srivastava, a businessman from Kanpur. Every day was an attempt for him to make a class a success and for parents like him – ensure the phone is charged, pray that connection is not lost and then the exposure to the screen doesn’t adversely affect his son’s health.

Hardly two months into the lockdown, his son Dev who is in seventh grade in a private school started to complain about a burning sensation in his eyes and headache, “is this education?” he asked. “I don’t think so. It is not that the school will never reopen. There is no shortcut to education, it is not a formality for me, so I was removed from the online class,” he said.

This forty-one-year-old father lost his job and Rs 3 lakh in business as the pandemic disrupted the economy. He joined a new workplace with much lesser monthly earnings. Despite the low earnings, Uttam got a new phone and paid his son’s tuition fees till June. But then, he decided not to anymore. “There was too much of a burden on us in ensuring he attends the class, so I withdrew him and discontinued paying the fee and gave him time to study on his own and later got the tutor,” he said.

Uttam informed the school that his son won’t be continuing education online and instead physically sat with the tutor with mask up and hands sanitized for a class. The tutor was in touch with the teacher in school, who continued to share the syllabus with the tutor.

Dev is not only one who has dropped the year, there are many other parents who didn’t let the ‘urgency’ of teaching-learning in times of crisis take a toll on their children.

Srivastava is one of the many parents spoke to who complained about the forceful ‘new normal’ when it came to children’s education during the pandemic. It made them realize the significance of a physical school or a university. “That is the only model we know, and it must be strengthened,” said Anita Rampal, Professor and former dean Education department Delhi University. She was appalled that the National Council for Educational Research and Training issued an alternate curriculum assuming everyone has a phone – “It was so farcical, wonder which India they were talking about,” she said.

This disconnect with ground realities was exposed in the pandemic with universities announcing bizarre guidelines for exams assuming everyone has equipment and privilege of privacy. Echoing her views, Rishikesh BS, Associate Professor School of Education, Azim Premji University said, “Equipment or a device is not a replacement for emotions.” A rapid survey report by Azim Premji Foundation taps the voices of teachers who shared about the ineffectiveness of online classes and lack of emotional connect in the lockdown imposed realities.

The teachers from the government schools in states like Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Karnataka revealed that in a 45-minute class, half the time goes in saying “hello-hello” because the network is bad and girls cannot hear them properly, “The girls keep saying, ‘Madam, theek se sunai nahi de raha hai’ (madam, we cannot hear properly).” “It is very difficult to teach even with these four girls; I do not know how it would be if all the students connected to the class,” a teacher was quoted in the report on ‘Myths Of Online Education’ that was released in September 2020.

Attendance was a very big issue. “It is quite unusual for us to conduct classes with 2-3 children. Out of 14 children, only 4 have been able to join the class. Network issues also affect the classes,” teacher of primary school, Gayatri Jangde in Chhattisgarh told

For an 8 am class, Jangde started calling up students from 7:30 am. Half the time would go in ensuring that “lesson has been transmitted.” When it didn’t work, Jangde started holding offline mohalla classes– small groups on different days. Meanwhile, Sachi Sharma, a teacher at Chhattisgarh primary school adopted flexibility in teaching hours, as students got access to devices only at night. So she held classes from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm to ensure everyone is present. But full attendance was still not possible. For students who missed out, she called them at a commonplace while planning an outing for grocery shopping in the day.

Online learning opportunities were found to be ineffective in providing any actual education. “More than 80% of teachers shared their concerns and impossibility about maintaining emotional connect with children during the online classes,” said the report by AFP.

This year has really taught the education sector that using technology in education is not a normal affair. “The new normal tag is misleading,” said Rishikesh, adding, “This was not a new normal but an abnormal situation. Both Rampal and Rishikesh impress on the fact that schooling has to happen the way it has been happening in a physical and face-to-face environment. “Education, a human endeavour, can’t be done with technology as aspects of socio-emotional learning happen when there is physical engagement,” he said.

Key findings from the Field Research Group at the Azim Premji Foundation that undertook a study covering 1,522 teachers (in 1,522 schools) and 398 parents in the public school system across 26 districts in five states revealed that 84 per cent of teachers in the implementing states were of the view that it was difficult or impossible “to maintain an emotional connection with children during online classes.” The report further added, “89 per cent teachers in non-implementing states shared the same concern in the eventuality of online classes in their states.”

In fact, the responses of teachers published in the report on the issue of the effectiveness of online teaching-learning processes reveal that it was mostly a “one-way communication”.

The teachers tried new methods to simplify teaching– they made PowerPoint presentations, shared pictures and videos. But it was difficult for them to gauge how much a child was following. In the surveyed states, teachers shared some readings on WhatsApp, giving homework to have some semblance of normalcy. But in the interviews to researchers, they said that all subjects are not the same and neither are the children. “Education is contextualizing,” a teacher said.

In another survey conducted by BIC Cello, Indian parents revealed that studies are best done in school as kids are mostly occupied with electronic devices at home and it is difficult to keep them engaged. The survey revealed that almost 50% parents felt that school is the best place for studies as children don’t feel enthusiastic studying from home; 19% felt children can interact with peers and develop a better understanding of concepts at school.

The reports by ASER 2020 and RTE Forum gave numbers to the disparity. The Ministry of Education directed the NCERT to form a committee to conduct a survey, which found “alternative modes of learning do not ensure equitable quality learning for all students.” According to the NCERT survey focusing on the gaps and/or loss of learning among students, during and after the lockdown, 50% of students are facing problems. The respondents said that there is an absence of enriched interaction between the teacher and the students. (MR, Inputs: Agencies).

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