As a head teacher, I have always felt that teaching means not only getting the curricular content right and imparting that knowledge. It also means encouraging children to think for themselves by making them mindful of their lives and giving them the skills they need to go about various things. I have always felt that the usual school processes should not be so rigid. Until children spend some extra time sitting idle, how will they realize the power of discipline and commitment?
The Covid-19 lockdown measures have really helped me find the answer to a question that has been nudging me for a long time: “Is it really necessary that learning and teaching should be confined to the four walls of the classroom? The new answer in this situation comes out to be “Absolutely not”. Technology has really made this big globe local to us. Physical presence hardly matters. What really matters is the right tools and the pertinent approach to use them.
In 2008 I read that there is a lot of work going on to make things e-accessible and that the future will bring user-friendly and self-teaching devices. I didn’t realize this until this lockdown that that world has arrived. Within a few days I had learnt to use and operate Zoom, Jitsy, Microsoft Team, Google Hangouts and many other platforms. The e-world has become the new reality!
Within a week I was teaching my students through an app. I received formal training from agencies but I learned most things by testing and trying. At first it wasn’t an easy to survive on e-mode (electronic/virtual/online mode) but after a few days I could see that technology does work most of the time, despite occasional disturbances, virtual distractions and audio-video problems. Initially I thought teaching through this new delivery mode was one-way communication but soon I realized that the sessions can be made lively by adding polls, surveys and videos sandwiched in between the sessions. The technology stunned me because in rural schools we just cannot afford to build in so much variety.
In the first few days, it was more a kind of game and the attendance of the students was also high but soon I realized that attendance was dropping and the joy of a new game was over. The reasons could be many: maybe a network problem, maybe the voice wasn’t audible for the students, maybe they were so busy helping the fathers harvest and mothers to cook, maybe my screen wasn’t visible or – the worst one! – perhaps my class wasn’t interesting. When I checked the chat box, however, suddenly the conversations became two-way – the children had been on mute. They started to share their problems in the chat box.
As for myself, I was feeling distracted due to various noises but soon I realized that I needed to stop multitasking and be mindful and convey the same to my students. I finally taught them a HOTS (high order thinking skill) of mindfulness.
Whenever you feel that response is weak and attendance is poor, students are just a phone call away. Good communication and effectively convincing students why they need to study comes handy. And my country, India, has a family-oriented culture so it is always easy to make calls to parents and get the folks back to classes.
However, bad networks, high charges for data and high costs for devices are a real challenge. These could be removed by providing a free, subsidized network. Village and city libraries could be converted into virtual rooms with laptops, tablets and internet connections. If learning is free, anybody has the power to become anything.
Dr Neeru Arora
This piece is part of the Teacher Task Force’s #TeachersVoices campaign, created to bring forward the experiences of teachers working every day to ensure their students continue to benefit from a quality education despite the COVID-19 pandemic. To participate, go to our dedicated webpage.