• Work from home and study from home may well have become the new normal in a world paralysed as never before by a deadly novel coronavirus, of which the scientific and research community has little clue months after it was first detected, and which experts believe is here to stay. An unprepared/underprepared education and learning field, which along with other sectors worldwide, was completely overwhelmed by the severity of the disruptions that accompanied it, is painfully trying to find its way around the grave challenge to its very survival.

The task is daunting, especially in a developing country like India, where widespread use of technology and penetration of internet is still a far cry. The educational institutions, especially the schools, where the bulk of young and aspirational Indians are on a journey of formal education and learning, are trying out various online methods as per their capacity and feasibility to restart whatever little teaching and learning can be possible under the circumstances.

Photos By : Life In Chandigarh

But it is easier said than done. Besides challenges of technology and internet, and the inherent limitations of online teaching, schools are encountering difficulties with the pace of adaptability by teachers and students to the new method of teaching and learning. So used to face-to-face interactions and eyeball contact, they are finding it extremely tough to adjust and focus in the diametrically changed environment.

Most independent schools have not been able to provide a digital and online interface with students and are making do with sending study materials and worksheets on class specific WhatsApp groups on school apps, wherever existing. They are banking on early resumption of classroom teaching in schools, which may be a distant possibility under the prevailing conditions. The more proactive schools are, however, making concerted efforts to quickly adapt to what is being anticipated as a new normal in the future. They have already launched virtual classrooms with a view to keep learning and improving as they progress along this new path.

LifeInChandigarh.com student correspondent Sumeir Bhatia spoke to principals/promoters, teachers and students of a few independent schools in and around Chandigarh tricity to gain insights into their respective experiments thus far on the road to change. 

Here are some of his observations and what those interviewed have to say:

Strawberry Fields High School (SFHS) principal Mrs. Sangeeta Sekhon says, “Finding a suitable platform for students to use was the main concern from the perspective of the school’s administration.” The platforms being used by SFHS include Microsoft Teams for middle and junior classes, and Google Meets for high school.

Other schools, including some DAV schools in the tricity and around and Lawrence Public School Mohali are relying on platforms such as Zoom and the CBSE digital platform known as Diksha.

Not just finding the right digital platform, schools are facing several other challenges as they take baby steps in the exploration of this hitherto largely alien space for them. Schools are realising that their teachers are ill-prepared to be able to quickly adapt to the new way of teaching. Hence the needs for skilling them in this new art – its functionality, security aspects, special communication skills and educational tools required, etc. The teachers, having to work out of their comfort zone of classroom teaching, are slowly but surely learning the nuts and bolts of effective virtual classroom teaching and managing the students.

Besides the inherent shortcomings of virtual classrooms, like inability of teachers to gauge the attentiveness and receptivity of students in the absence of eyeball contact, a big question mark also hangs on how assessments are to be done in an honest and transparent manner.

Students are concerned that teachers have not been able to elaborately dwell on topics and their doubts have also either not been addressed at all or not adequately so. In such a scenario grades could suffer. On the other hand some schools are preparing to start conducting regular tests, at least for high school students. However, maintaining academic honesty and integrity by students in this online process is a cause for worry. 

Mrs. Harneet Singh, who runs a couple of DAV schools in Chandigarh and Himachal Pradesh, and is currently coordinating the online re-training of faculty members of DAV institutions in this region in Covid times, feels, “There is a need to create a culture of academic honesty before conducting assessments; the students should ask themselves whether it is in their best interest to cheat during an assessment.”

Though most students are adjusting to the new way of teaching, they would still rather prefer physical classroom teaching, as echoed by Ananya Kapoor, a Class 8 student of SFHS. “Some teachers are very good at classroom teaching, but many among them are struggling to adapt to the changed setting,” she observes.

Class 9 student Hameed Mohamad’s school Guru Gobind Public is not yet providing an online interface with the teachers. He receives his work on WhatsApp group of his class. Teachers provide them with worksheets and other educational assignments to complete and post back on the group for checking. Tests are also being conducted in a similar manner. He is anxiously awaiting the school to reopen so that he can resume his regular studies. He is apprehensive about his grades going down.

Mrs. Veena Malhotra, who runs Lawrence Public School in Mohali, does not anticipate schools opening any time soon. “I do not think that schools will be able to open by July or even August considering the massive spike in Covid-19 positive cases across the country in the past few weeks.” 

She believes that the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed many cracks and flaws in the Indian education system. “For most schools, it is a challenge to familiarise their teachers with the online teaching methodology and getting students accustomed to self-study. This is a time of reflection and an opportunity to further modernize our education system.”

Giving a teacher’s perspective, Ms. Lavisha Singh, a French educator in Banyan Tree School, says “Many teachers, having to come out of their comfort zone, are finding it difficult to effectively communicate with their students in online and virtual mode. The erratic speed of network connections is another big hindrance.” She feels that considering the disruptions in normal teaching either the syllabuses need to be curtailed for the September examinations or these be postponed because of the students’ concerns over their grades.

Many schools are also trying to provide continuity in imparting quality education to their students from the economically weaker sections as well. Educational materials such as detailed modules or worksheets are being posted on WhatsApp groups or on school apps. Mrs. Sangeeta Sekhon shares, “We are making sure that every student through his or her parents has access to the school’s portal and receives the modules and worksheets provided by the school.”

However, these students still stand at a disadvantage. Many areas they live in may not have reliable internet, hindering their ability to use the online platforms and learn effectively.

Eventually, everyone is hoping against hope that conditions become conducive soon for early reopening of schools and parents are eager to see smiles back on the faces of their children.

LifeInChandigarh.com  by APR Media House is an enjoyable digital reading startup, which keeps you abreast of the latest meaningful happenings of interest to large sections of folks in Chandigarh tricity, and expats from the region. It has been promoted by a public spirited senior journalist and media consultant with a view to encourage good quality and healthy journalism, a dire need of the times.

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