Amid the uncertainty…

Usha Raman

Just like much of the rest of the world, the Teacher Plus team has been working from home, sheltering in place, and trying to keep up with what needs to be done. It’s been a strange couple of months, knowing that while many of us are fairly comfortable both in terms of having a place to stay and the access to Internet that allows us to remain connected and productive, there are millions of others who have neither. We’ve all become unfortunately familiar with the images of people fleeing cities in any way they could, hoping to find some succor in their home villages. In almost all the pictures, there are children – hanging on to their parents, clutching at a mother’s hand, sitting by the side of the road, tired and hungry. These have been the most heartbreaking, and reflect the most urgent aspect of the crisis. But there are many other issues on the slow boil that will perhaps emerge in the not too distant future, across many fields of human activity.

In education, things have come to a virtual (no pun intended) standstill. Apart from a handful of elite institutions whose learning and teaching communities have good internet access and the appropriate devices, the vast majority, from primary to tertiary levels, have struggled with online classes and most have given up. Suddenly the promising rhetoric of a technology-driven system has collapsed, with the gaps in preparedness, infrastructure, and readiness only too visible. It’s been realized – keenly – that context and sociality play a huge role in learning, and this is particularly true for young children. While those who have home schooled for years have the advantage of experience here, others, more used to the regimens and the physical structures of conventional education have been at a loss. Even without the huge gaps in access, it has been brought home to us that there are many other variables that we need to consider when we move teaching/learning online.

The other major issue is stress and anxiety stemming from the general climate of uncertainty. How does one educate or prepare young people for a future whose shape is so uncertain? What are the ways in which the social and economic world will change, and how do we equip ourselves for these changes? What are the new habits of living that we will have to acquire and quickly put into practice? We’re all fumbling for answers, looking to science and social policy and public health experts to give us some guidance about how to plan.

But in the middle of all that, we hold on to some things. This special issue represents one of those attempts – to focus on the beauty and steadfastness of mathematics in all its infinite variations. This is the second time we have focused on mathematics teaching, and it won’t be the last. Our guest editor, Sundaram S, has done a remarkable job of pulling together a diverse set of articles that push us to question and rethink how we have dealt with the subject, and give us some inventive ways to bring the magic of math alive in the classroom – or perhaps, on a screen!

Stay safe. And keep learning.

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