Teachers and COVID Times: Open schools in closed buildings

Dr. Shweta Verma

Source: Element5 Digital https://unsplash.com/photos/OyCl7Y4y0Bk

The meaning and methods of access to education changed within a few weeks due to Coronavirus Pandemic (or COVID-19 Pandemic). COVID-19 emerged not only  as a health crisis, but also became an education crisis!

According to UNESCO in March 2020, as schools closed down, 1.5 billion students were affected along with 63 million teachers in 165 countries.[i]  By 12 April, 188 countries were reported to have schools closed, hence impacting 91.3% of the world’s student population.[ii]  The school closures were sudden and left many unprepared for the shift that was coming in the education.

It is a very difficult time for me as a Principal of a school. All this happened in month of March when a number of tasks have to be completed, such as exams, result, course orders, and curriculum planning for next academic session. COVID-19 stopped us. But life saving is priority these days.

I’m planning to engage my students online. I will promote my students to the next level and engage them in assignment accordingly. For this, my staff is active. All teachers are preparing their activities.

Learning must be go on! They should be in touch with their previous books and staff. So for 15 days, we are preparing activities and assignments, which they can do with the help of their old books. It’s a recapitulation.

Sayma Sagar, Principal, The Little Scholar School, Delhi in April 2020

Teachers, hence, are trying to deal with the current situation while preparing ahead according to the benefits of students in mind. It is a period of adjustment and innovation.


A push for flexibility, innovation, and adjustments

Sudden closure of schools brought in confusions, uncertainties, as well as rapid responses. While Netherlands could bring on the curriculum digitally within 48 hours i above, India had to postpone CBSE exams for some of the papers. In many countries, teachers had either no or very less time to prepare for the lockdown as the session was in progress. Many schools across the world started online classes if they had a level of preparation for this, including schools in India. For example, Heritage Xperiential Learning School (Gurugram) was already equipped with the technology to do so. Bluebells School International (Delhi) started with online/video-call classes for 1st class onwards.  In some schools, the teachers have been sending activities sheets and videos for children in classes lower than 1st as well.

All these examples are of ‘private’ education systems. And even in these, there is not data yet in terms of children who may be missing out on learning because of difficult home contexts. Only 8% of homes with young members have computer with net link[i]. While some children could also continue classes through a phone with Internet connection, the inequalities cannot be wished away.

There are efforts to address this but such efforts are unlikely to be true across the country. Nehru World School (Ghaziabad), for example, has given laptops to some families who may not have access to the necessary equipment. Where they know that children do not have the resources for the learning, (connectivity aside) there is an effort to set alternative tasks. How much of the same is happening for children across India?


The crucial links

Among the most crucial links in this period of innovation and adjustment are the teachers and the parents/guardians of the students. For schools that have started remote or online learning in place, the success of this process depends on several factors.

These include:

  • Access to a smartphone or laptop/computer/tablet.
  • A functional Internet connection.
  • Availability of an adult (or someone) at the child’s home who can help set up the process and ensures continuous engagement of the child (especially younger ones).

What does this tell us?

If someone does not have a smartphone or other necessary gadgets (e.g. Radio or TV), they are not going to access what is being offered at the moment through remote or online learning.

If both parents have ‘office’ work as employees, then someone will have to adjust their work accordingly if they have the option of flexibility from their employers. Guardian/parent-teacher relationship is an important key. This is especially true for the contexts like India where remote/online education has not been in place for schools, especially for younger children.

Both sides need to trust each other, while recognising how things may be hard for the one on the other side, and that each one is trying to do what is humanly possible to move forward.

Teachers making the big shift

While the sudden shift in routine and resources is hard for everyone, it has not been so easy for several teachers as well.

These are testing times, all major educational institutions have shut down and we’re compelled to maintain physical distance. The same technology we’d otherwise be wary of is the only rescue. It’s a different kind of energy in the class on video conferencing. Usually I would look at their face and know if they’re daydreaming in the class, but now it’s not possible to look at all of them together and not everybody is comfortable showing their face on online platforms. It’s like watching a live performance on stage and viewing the recorded footage of the performance. I really hope we don’t get used to this feeling of teaching online.

Indira Vaid, Sardar Patel Vidyalaya, Delhi, Teaches 6th-10th (Hindi)

A similar perspective has been shared by another teacher:

“It is convenient to teach from home as neither the teacher nor the student has to reach the school and get in a room to teach or be taught. So it is a much convenient way. Technical difficulties do happen due to weak Internet connection, & voice of the student doesn’t reach the teacher or vice versa. In my opinion, classroom teaching is much better than online teaching. There is no comparison between the two. The physical presence of the teacher and the students in a room is still the best way to teach according to me.”

Vijay Thakur, ASN Senior Secondary School, Delhi, Teaches senior classes (Mathematics)


The issues that remain

Digital safety and emotional safety of teachers as well as students. In many ways, online teaching of the whole class is not exactly like the in-person interactions. Teachers as well as students, while engaging with each other from home, have to engage with everything else going in their environment


Learning inequalities & digital divide: As the world jumps to use technology for reaching students who cannot physically reach schools and teachers anymore, many vulnerable children remain excluded from the student-teacher interaction & learning process.

Is banning the online education a solution?

COVID-19 has pushed the world to recognize the fact that open and flexible education systems are important. Are we really committed to the idea of education reaching each child? If yes, then now is the time to ensure (even more strongly) that we find and apply solutions that can be used by diverse children, including children with disabilities, children connected with streets, children living in institutions, and so on. No more can we say that if a child is not able to come to school due to XYZ reasons, they cannot access education and learning. A child can be a student of a school from home on specific days.  Online education, therefore, is here to stay and continue.  Instead of banning the online education, we need to push ourselves to find and implement more solutions and options for learning to continue. 

Let us continue to build back better!


[i] https://scroll.in/article/960939/indian-education-cant-go-online-only-8-of-homes-with-school-children-have-computer-with-net-link


[i] COVID-19 Webinar: A new world for teachers, education’s frontline workers (30/3/2020). Access it here: https://en.unesco.org/news/covid-19-webinar-new-world-teachers-educations-frontline-workers

[ii] Global Education Coalition , as on 12 April 2020. Access the information here: https://en.unesco.org/covid19/educationresponse/globalcoalition

 

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