Teacher: Hello, hello... class can you hear me?
Students: Madam, we can’t hear you properly.
... Connection lost
“Corona imposed circumstances taught me education is not transmission," said Uttam Srivastava, a businessman from Kanpur. Every day was an attempt for him to make a class a success and for parents like him - ensure the phone is charged, pray that connection is not lost and then the exposure to screen doesn’t adversely affect his son’s health.
Hardly two months into the lockdown, his son Dev who is in seventh grade in a private school started to complain about a burning sensation in his eyes and headache, “is this education?” he asked. “I don’t think so. It is not that school will never reopen. There is no shortcut to education, it is not a formality for me, so I was removed from online class,” he said.
This forty-one-year-old father lost his job and Rs 3 lakh in business as the pandemic disrupted the economy. He joined a new workplace with much lesser monthly earnings. Despite the low earnings, Uttam got a new phone and paid his son's tuition fees till June. But then, he decided not to anymore. “There was too much of a burden on us in ensuring he attends the class, so I withdrew him and discontinued paying the fee and gave him time to study on his own and later got the tutor,” he said.
Uttam informed the school that his son won’t be continuing education online and instead physically sat with the tutor with mask up and hands sanitized for a class. The tutor was in touch with the teacher in school, who continued to share the syllabus with the tutor.
Dev is not only one who has dropped the year, there are many other parents who didn’t let the ‘urgency’ of teaching-learning in times of crisis take a toll on their children.
Education without emotion is no education
Srivastava is one of the many parents News18.com spoke to who complained about the forceful 'new normal' when it came to children's education during the pandemic. It made them realize the significance of a physical school or a university. “That is the only model we know, and it must be strengthened,” said Anita Rampal, Professor and former dean Education department Delhi University. She was appalled that the National Council for Educational Research and Training issued an alternate curriculum assuming everyone has a phone – “It was so farcical, wonder which India they were talking about,” she said.
This disconnect with ground realities was exposed in the pandemic with universities announcing bizarre guidelines for exams assuming everyone has equipment and privilege of privacy. Echoing her views, Rishikesh BS, Associate Professor School of Education, Azim Premji University said, “Equipment or a device is not a replacement for emotions.” A rapid survey report by Azim Premji Foundation taps the voices of teachers who shared about the ineffectiveness of online classes and lack of emotional connect in the lockdown imposed realities.
The teachers from the government schools in states like Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Karnataka revealed that in a 45-minute class, half the time goes in saying “hello-hello” because the network is bad and girls cannot hear them properly, “The girls keep saying, ‘Madam, theek se sunai nahi de raha hai’ (madam, we cannot hear properly).” “It is very difficult to teach even with these four girls; I do not know how it would be if all the students connected to the class,” a teacher was quoted in the report on ‘Myths Of Online Education’ that was released in September 2020.
Attendance was a very big issue. “It is quite unusual for us to conduct classes with 2-3 children. Out of 14 children, only 4 have been able to join the class. Network issues also affect the classes,” teacher of primary school, Gayatri Jangde in Chhattisgarh told News18.com.
For an 8 am class, Jangde started calling up students from 7:30 am. Half the time would go in ensuring that “lesson has been transmitted." When it didn’t work, Jangde started holding offline mohalla classes-- small groups on different days. Meanwhile, Sachi Sharma, a teacher at Chhattisgarh primary school adopted flexibility in teaching hours, as students got access to devices only at night. So she held classes from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm to ensure everyone is present. But full attendance was still not possible. For students who missed out, she called them at a commonplace while planning an outing for grocery shopping in the day.
Online learning opportunities were found to be ineffective in providing any actual education. “More than 80% of teachers shared their concerns and impossibility about maintaining emotional connect with children during the online classes,” said the report by AFP.
This year has really taught the education sector that using technology in education is not a normal affair. "The new normal tag is misleading,” said Rishikesh, adding, “This was not a new normal but an abnormal situation. Both Rampal and Rishikesh impress on the fact that schooling has to happen the way it has been happening in a physical and face-to-face environment. “Education, a human endeavor, can’t be done with technology as aspects of socio-emotional learning happen when there is physical engagement,” he said.
Key findings from the Field Research Group at the Azim Premji Foundation that undertook a study covering 1,522 teachers (in 1,522 schools) and 398 parents in the public school system across 26 districts in five states revealed that 84 percent of teachers in the implementing states were of the view that it was difficult or impossible “to maintain an emotional connection with children during online classes.” The report further added, “89 percent teachers in non-implementing states shared the same concern in the eventuality of online classes in their states.”
In fact, the responses of teachers published in the report on the issue of the effectiveness of online teaching-learning processes reveal that it was mostly a “one-way communication”.
The teachers tried new methods to simplify teaching-- they made PowerPoint presentations, shared pictures and videos. But it was difficult for them to gauge how much a child was following. In the surveyed states, teachers shared some readings on WhatsApp, giving homework to have some semblance of normalcy. But in the interviews to researchers, they said that all subjects are not the same and neither are the children. “Education is contextualizing,” a teacher said.
Rampal said that the pandemic and lockdown was followed by 'callousness' from both the private and government schools. “What’s most important to realize is that education is not just one-way transmission. It’s neither staring at the board nor staring at the blackboard. This pandemic has given a shock and a jolt. There have been dehumanizing disruptions and all kind of anxieties with parents and children. Amid this, the private and government schools callously shifted to digital format as if education is business as usual.” In her view, this could have been done with “decentralization” and giving the districts the responsibility to ensure education and delivery of entitlements to the children.
In another survey conducted by BIC Cello, Indian parents revealed that studies are best done in school as kids are mostly occupied with electronic devices at home and it is difficult to keep them engaged. The survey revealed that almost 50% parents felt that school is the best place for studies as children don’t feel enthusiastic studying from home; 19% felt children can interact with peers and develop a better understanding of concepts at school.
The reports by ASER 2020 and RTE Forum gave numbers to the disparity. The Ministry of Education directed the NCERT to form a committee to conduct a survey, which found “alternative modes of learning do not ensure equitable quality learning for all students.” According to the NCERT survey focusing on the gaps and/or loss of learning among students, during and after the lockdown, 50% students are facing problems. The respondents said that there is an absence of enriched interaction between the teacher and the students.
Children were not happy at home
A class 12th girl ran away from her home in Aminabad, Lucknow. She wanted to spend time with her friends as she was fed up at home. So she took a bus to Mumbai, without telling her parents. On reaching Bhopal, she discovered that her bag was missing; it got stolen on her way. She made a call to her father and was later rescued and sent back home.
“Children were at home in this pandemic but that was hardly a protection or an emotional cover. We found so many cases where children were not happy at home. The pandemic exposed the fault in our society and from here we must ensure that the child’s agency is respected,” said Sangeeta Sharma, director of Childline Lucknow.
With the world shifting to online education, the children were cooped up inside their homes. There was no visit to schools, there was no gully cricket, there were no classmates, there were no friends to meet. “There is a link between school and homes-- it was snapped in these times. This link is important as inputs from school and home shape the child. Children tell parents about school and also tell their classmates and teachers about home. This influx of information is important for a child’s development,” Sharma added.
Since the lockdown, Childline Lucknow received distressed calls from over 60 children complaining about abuse and domestic violence. They complained of being nagged and checked for everything they did. Homes were stifling spaces, for many. “Lot of families didn’t continue admissions for various reasons-- either there was no phone, or no money to pay fees. At home, many children faced abuse, some tried to escape by running away and were traced by the agencies,” she said.
"The pandemic must bring us back to making a responsible society that understands the child, their agency and mental health," she added.
Jaya Singh, member UP State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR), said that the digital disparity wrecked children's learning processes. "The government tried to salvage by diversifying the mediums to educate through radio and television but they failed to create awareness about those mediums in ensuring the teaching learning process among the target group,” Singh said. Both Sharma and Singh are of the view that there is need to create awareness of mental health and propagate measures proposed by the government to reach the last man.
The Delhi government schools have not yet deiced to reopen physically. Kamyani Joshi who teaches in one of the government schools realized that the "mobile which was a bane earlier came out as a no important tool," with screen time increasing enormously and affecting the eyesight of students, teachers and parents alike.
Like all teachers, she devised ways and lessons to make their classes more effective and interactive. "It was a great learning experience for teachers as they learned to explore the virtual and online world. Those of us who were putting technology away for another day or were shying away from it, had to all of a sudden jump head and foot and skim through," she said.
There were frantic calls made to friends in anxious moments of technology acting up in erratic ways, but then it was the turn of her "students to help the teachers back and in no time both learned the virtual classroom apps together," she said.
There was empathy and collaboration on both sides of the screen, with 40-year-olds trying their hands at the smartphone for the first time. "Though the energy of the physical classroom cannot be substituted, the virtual classroom has tried its best," she said, adding, "The importance of giving space, time and exploring different pedagogy to cater to different needs of the students has become a reality."
Reflecting on her experiences, she said that it has been more than 9 months with virtual classrooms becoming the "only way for continuing the teaching-learning process and filling the gap that was created due to the pandemic" but in cases of inaccessibility of device-based education, the teachers reached out in all possible ways.
Suvendu Mitra's Sightsavers in Bihar introduced a Tele-education Model for CWVIs under its Inclusive Education programme for assisting them in their regular learning process using available resources. An online pedagogy approach was adopted which focused on teaching CWVIs through one-on-one telephonic calls or group con-calls for CWVIs of the same class. This approach was adapted in two Districts of Bihar, Bhagalpur and Jehanabad, as a pilot project during mid of April 2020.
"When schools reopen, the teaching-learning process would become better diversified with a wonderful combination of the physical and the virtual world," she said. "The importance of technology and the digital medium has come to stay and it now remains to be seen how technology can be integrated with all the teaching subjects as well as the co-curricular medium which is an integral part of school education," Kamyani Joshi said.