Finding new ways to learn

Usha Raman

Do you have a sense that we seem to be living the same day over and over? You pick up the paper, and apart from some variation in terms of current events (tensions at the border, party politics, environmental degradation, etc.) the main stories are unchanging – new numbers of Covid-19 cases and deaths, the sorry state of preparedness in our health system, the slow advances in vaccine development….

And so the uncertainty continues and anxieties remain about how we will get through the coming months. It’s hard to engage in any meaningful conversation without the topic of Covid-19 intervening in some way. When we make plans, there is always a disclaimer to the effect that it all “depends on how things go” in relation to the pandemic.

But teachers have to bash on, regardless, teaching their lessons, worrying about their students, setting assignments and grading work. That part of the old doesn’t really go away… what does change is how we do it. The past four months have already shown us that the digital divide is wide and deep and is unlikely to disappear any time soon. There have been reports about students not having reliable access to the network or even to devices, making it difficult for them to keep up with online instruction. But this is only one part of the problem, and the most visible – and yes, it remains very important to tackle such inequities. There are many other issues that render even the offline (or physical) classroom a deeply unequal space, issues that force us to revisit our ideas about education and about how people learn.

In this issue, we asked several writers to consider how teaching and learning have been impacted in these months following the first lockdown in March. We received a number of accounts, some that talk about how parents have been dealing with having children at home all the time, others that outline the challenges faced by children in marginalized contexts, and several that try to understand and address the ways in which we can handle – and make the most of – this moment.

Clearly, this is an unfolding story. Even as we get used to functioning on and through our devices, we will be forced to confront new issues that emerge from the lack of physical social contact, the absence of convivial spaces where we can chat over chai and where children can play, argue and make up during intervals and lunch breaks. But maybe we will also find that there are new, hopeful ways of learning that draw more from independent reflection and self-motivation rather than enforced competition and rote learning.

So, take care to keep your notes and share your own stories; there is much to learn from our collective experiences. We are all in this together!

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