On the 14th of March, the news dropped like a bombshell for all teachers: schools would remain closed until the end of the month. My students on the other hand excitedly called me up to confirm what was according to them, happy news. They were to have a fortnight of holidays, the reasons for the lockdown were of no concern.
The nation followed suit ten days later as Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared an initial nationwide lockdown on the 25th of March for 21 days (now extended till May 3rd). There were calls this time too, only a little more concerned. “Didi, will we all be promoted?”, “Didi, are the exams to be cancelled?”, “Didi, will we get report cards after school starts next year?” The questions ranged from the absurd to the practical, but I could detect the underlying worry in both parents and students. We teachers are equally worried.
A lot has been discussed on the impact COVID-19 has had on the economy, social classes, and the environment. But, as a teacher, I am more concerned about the impact it is having on the education system. It is well known that investment in the education system has a very high incubation period. As a result, the current impacts of the pandemic on the education system would also have a high incubation period, making them difficult to measure in the long-term. How is the pandemic currently affecting different stakeholders of the education system and how they are responding to it?
Most of my students are of course unable to perceive the depth of the situation, yet they are not entirely naïve about it either. From my own interactions with my students, I could detect the subtle, uneasy changes in their attitudes toward the holidays. And rightfully so, given the drastic measures taken by different states and boards. The CBSE and the state boards of Maharashtra, Haryana, UP, Karnataka and finally Telangana have announced that all exams are cancelled, and that all students from grades 1 to 8 would be promoted without exams.
— NewsMeter (@NewsMeter_In) March 22, 2020
Grade 10 students are even more worried. As one of my Grade 10 students Ramesh* says, “Due to the lockdown, we’re unable to attend tuitions where we can actually clarify our doubts. We are unable to study with our friends too. Now, as the lockdown continues, the fears surrounding the exams are rising. How can we study at home? During the ‘normal days’ everyone in our house used to go to work so we had a quiet space. Now, because of the lockdown, the situation is quite the opposite.”
When it comes to parents, the ability to tide over the lock down depends on a variety of social factors like class, caste, employment, etc. Work from home is an option that some parents can financially afford to undertake, and others can’t.
For those who can afford to, many are working even more from home than they used to in the office. They are unable to spend time or share gadgets with their children for educational purposes.
This is a nearly 2 km-long queue for food in the national capital.
Men and women stood in the scorching heat holding utensils.
“The poor will die like this.”@sharmasupriya and I report:
— Vijayta Lalwani (@VijaytaL) April 18, 2020
The lower rungs of the society, on the other hand, are facing a heart-wrenching situation. Some of them have lost their jobs while others struggle to get back home safely. Most of my students’ parents work as auto drivers, domestic helps, tailors, and barbers, amongst many other occupations; what is common is that they have all lost their livelihoods due to the lockdown. Their main concern is to feed their families and hence the education of their children has taken a back seat.
For example, the first week of April saw a miserable event in Telangana, wherein the Public Distribution System faced a major breakdown. Most families didn’t receive their basic monthly rations until the 7th or 8th of April. For those who did, they received rice alone and nothing else.
Given the situation, most of my students’ parents spoke to me about feeding their families, and rarely inquired about the educational progress of their children. That’s not to say that they’re not aware of the magnitude of the situation. Many also ask about exams and are woefully aware that they are not in a position to oversee their child’s education in case the lockdown of schools continues.
How Teachers and Students are Getting to Grips With E-Learning
Yet, e-learning has been heralded as a key tool to tide over students’ concerns during the pandemic. If executed well, fears like Ramesh’s may be alleviated by better learning outcomes and teaching methods. Curriculum and content developers are rising to the occasion by creating innovative learning techniques that will keep children academically occupied during the lockdown. Revanth, a professional in the education sector says, “Parents downloading apps to teach kids, and teachers sending video lessons or zoom calls reflects the commitment and creativity of teachers for student learning.”
What’s India doing during lockdown? ?
We are pleased to inform you that since the start of COVID-19 lockdown period i.e (23rd March 2020), our e-learning platforms such as @SWAYAMMHRD, #SWAYAMPrabha, #NDL etc has received a footfall of 1.4 Cr.https://t.co/2tMW6bSzhl pic.twitter.com/42rNyblaEF
— Dr Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank (@DrRPNishank) April 10, 2020
Yet, the issue is that digital learning, which used to just be an added tool in a teacher’s kit, has overnight become the only tool feasible for learning. The usage of technology to tide this period over has its own implications too, mainly that the e-learning infrastructure in India is simply not strong enough to ensure effective learning for all. As a Teach For India Fellow Uday notes, around “40% of my students don’t have access to the class WhatsApp group. They are missing out on the learning material that I am sharing.”
This is the case with many Fellows, including myself, where our trials to send learning material or revision packets online are hitting roadblocks. Most of our students’ parents don’t have smartphones with active internet connections to utilise facilities like WhatsApp, YouTube, or Byjus. Others don’t have the time to oversee their child’s proper usage of the phone.
In the midst of this digital shift, teachers also face the additional pressure of converting all teaching material to digital formats, making worksheets, taking classes on platforms like Zoom and Google Classroom, checking WhatsApp images of home works, and reporting all of this information to both parents and principals. This is all the more difficult for female teachers who need to do all of this, and still manage their households. As Mrs. Indumathi, a teacher at a private school says, “We are making the best out of the situation. I take a Math class daily on Google Classroom and getting to see each student’s face on the screen gives me a better pulse of how effective the class is. The downside to all of this is that it becomes too hectic for me. I need to manage two classes at a time, check answers, prepare for the next day’s class, and keep my Principal updated about all of this. This is taking a toll on my health.”
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Government schools are a different ball game altogether. A Grade 10 teacher, Ms. Rukmani, was apprehensive about the impact this postponement of exams might have on her students. “The students had been writing practice exams since October. Now that the exams are postponed, most of them are losing interest in studying and are slacking in their preparation. I am trying to send work through calls and WhatsApp and keep up their morale, but I’m worried about how and when they will write their final exams.” For most teachers teaching in government and private schools, this lockdown is anything but a summer vacation as they find themselves working more than they used to during regular school days.
One common observation across stakeholders that stands out is the divide that is being created between students as a result of the pandemic.
While a few are home tutored by their educated parents, the others spend their time watching TV or making TikTok videos because their uneducated parents are unable to help them with their education. While some students are being forced to follow a rigorous study timetable, others are scrambling for basic food, shelter, and safety.
There have been suggestions of distributing educational material along with rations and telecasting shows on TV that could be of informational value to students. Yet, what these outcomes mostly do is create the fear in us educators that the pandemic could actually lead to a greater educational inequity between students by the time they reach the job market.
To alleviate these circumstances, we need to start realising that the education of students has to be equally targeted alongside measures for health and food security. As the old adage goes “Today’s children are tomorrow’s citizens,” yet if the lessons from the pandemic are anything to by, much more can be done in this interim to better prepare these citizens for an uncertain future.