COVID-inspired classrooms

S. Radha Prathi

Indian education was moving along at its usual pace when a microscopic virus hit the pause button. Indians, however, are an enterprising lot. The educational sector decided to cock a snook at the coronavirus by simply going the e-way! Within a matter of days, many private schools were ready with a new strategy.

 In most schools the in-house knowledge bank on matters of technology, networked with corporate experts in the field and teachers were trained briefly online on how to conduct meetings, classes, setting and accepting assignments and evaluation. Teachers worked from home conducting and attending meetings with their colleagues on lesson plans and practising to teach online with technical support for a couple of days. Then they networked either with a student’s parent or guardian and soon e-classes were launched. A regular timetable was charted out and schools slipped into a routine sans assembly, prayer, uniforms and marking of attendance.

Initially, most parents, teachers and students were cynical about the effectiveness of the new methodology. Sudarshan Kasturi, Head, Department of Mathematics at Greenwood High, Bangalore said, “I was not game for the idea in the beginning but constant experimentation with online teaching has made me explore new ideas.” Ramamani, Sanskrit teacher, Jnanodaya High School, Bangalore averred, “Online teaching can never be compared to the dynamics of classroom interaction, but we can adapt if we must.”

The private education sector realized that life must go on and when the world bounces back to a state of normalcy, one should not be left behind. When this line of thought became the guiding mantra, differences were ironed out and everyone accepted the new norm.

When a few members of the management, heads of schools, teachers, parents and students were consulted on the matter, all of them seemed to be speaking in one voice on the various dimensions of “Covid-inspired classrooms”. It was interesting to note that all of them, even the ones who had batted for online classes said that the online version was a pale comparison to the vivacious and cacophonous atmosphere of a school campus. Meena Shivam, homemaker and mother of three school going children in Coimbatore observed, “When one considers plying through heavy traffic in abominably hot Indian summers swathed in formal clothing, uniform, tie, shoes and socks to a hot, stuffy classroom, the alternative of learning from the comfort of their homes saved a lot of time, energy and money.”

 This summer however, teachers had to give up their annual vacation. Similarly, children too who enjoy “me-time” to rejuvenate as their parents plan trips and summer camps had to stay at home with the uncertain lockdown prompting extended academic activity throughout the vacation. While the freshly promoted 10th and 12th grade students had regular classes sans practicals and field trips, students of other grades were also kept occupied for two to four days of the week as against the usual norm of having a complete vacation. Various school authorities explained that this step was being taken because it was better to be safe than sorry.

Mini Sreedharan, principal of Shiksha Sagar High school, Bangalore says, “Parents are very happy to see their children studying even through the vacation and we are happy too because the children will not forget their lessons during the holidays.”

It is a well-known fact that several boards of education are working on cutting down the syllabus, which is a sure sign that schools are likely to be given the go-ahead to reopen a couple of months after the usual dates. The existing space, teacher-student ratio, available infrastructure in terms of restrooms, audio-visual rooms, seminar halls and laboratories cannot construe to the new “social distancing” norms immediately.

All the same, if “social distancing” has to be followed for a long time to come, it may pose a lot of practical problems in any school environment. Leelavathi Narayan, founder and principal of Sri Vidya Mandir, Bangalore sharing her thoughts said, “If most doable aspects of various subjects can be covered in online classes, then a certain number of students can be asked to come to school to complete the rest of the portions in a leisurely way without compromising their health.”

Children, who are generally averse to “studying” during vacations are unanimously thankful for the e-lessons during the lockdown, for it gave them something to do. They are happy about the palpable decrease in classroom writing and have a legitimate reason to meddle with their smart phones.  

In the beginning some parents were hesitant about these classes because they did not know how to operate the gadgets or use the apps, but when the schools helped them, they learned the ropes. Some parents had to install alternate power facilities to help their children have uninterrupted lessons. At the end of the day they find the e-classes to be a breather which introduces an element of being engaged fruitfully at least for a few waking hours.

In this scenario, no one seemed to be complaining and everyone seemed to be grateful to be conducting or attending online classes because they were involved in a productive activity. Yet the acceptance comes with a caveat —-  almost everyone I spoke to said they were yearning to get back to the madding crowd at school in the near future.

The author is a professor  of English and Sanskrit, Jain University, Bangalore. She also freelances for the print media, is a radio artist, writes scripts for television shows. She can be reached at [email protected].

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