Saturday, May 23, 2020

Looking ahead : The opportunities and challenges of online classes

A note from our Director, digging deep into the opportunities and challenges that have shown themselves in the education sector, as a result of global effects of Covid-19, and the need to  conduct online classes, in order to continue learning of all school children.

If any one of us could be in all the class groups during this online learning time…. we would become as wise, and as excited to learn, as we always wished we were. In one class five friends are collecting tamarind seeds and are calculating (quickly) who has more or less. In another, everyone is watching a recycling video, then drawing the waste materials they throw away. Another group is learning about regular and irregular verbs. Most exciting of all for me is the exercise of barahpai or the twelve Hindi vowels, as all applied to the same letter. I myself am teaching Nationalism in Europe and, while building up towards comparison with nationalism in India, learning something new.


The exercise of the twelve Hindi vowels, as all applied to the same letter

There is no doubt that our online classes are of high excitement to teachers and students alike. Novelty is a pleasure. Challenges are stimulating. To get together in groups is always fun.

Shalvi ma'am teaching about the concept of Recycling

Let's look at the pros and cons of these online classes.
Here is the main problem. Our country, despite the government claiming 100% electrification, is lacking in continuous, voltage-steady, moderately-priced electricity. Second, all Indians seem to have cell phones, almost all smart phones. In fact, only some 35% of Indians use the internet. No matter how much we inspire and motivate our students to study online, the practical difficulties for both village and small town children are insuperable.

The problem is not simply that x, y, z child cannot study. The problem is that some children were already at risk because their parents lacked the time or understanding to give them the support needed. With online classes, the number of such children  goes up. More parents are unable to support their children’s classes—they are busy and monopolise the family phone; they lack electricity or internet; there is no privacy at home; they cannot give elementary help like drawing columns for a small child. Or they are under-occupied and unnecessarily take over the schoolwork that should have been tackled independently by the child.

Hardik doing his work on his  laptop

In school, and I am talking concretely about our school, the child is part of a world constructed deliberately by the teacher. This is a society in which there is equality and brother/sisterhood. Critical thinking is taught. Children both practice democracy and learn about democracy. In online classes, children may read and do exercises about democracy, but they can never practice it. Nor can they critically, practically, engage with gender equality, or social justice, or anti-communalism. Each of our families is rooted in its own traditions, most of which are exclusionary. A child studying online is subjected to the family’s influence rather than the physical school’s liberating one.

Varun and his mother doing Yoga class together

            Yet we are continuing our online classes, and are planning more. Mostly because we have no choice, and if a job has to be done, it should be done very well. We are planning to make richer curricula to use online. This curricula should talk directly about our changed social surrounding and our new responsibilities; teach critical thinking about new facts and figures; stimulate children’s imaginations in new directions. The classical information they must still learn has to be recast for use in new technologies. Videos, image and sound recordings, links to other material, instructions for individual work…. the list goes on.

Riya ma'am teaching English through her video

My last word will be for our school’s philosophy. Our twin motto is equality, or integration; and excellence, with no excuses for failure in quality. Both these values are being put to the test, as I have described above. The “no excuses” means: teachers and managers, let’s get on with our research and development, and come up with a new teaching style for the new emergency-led era!

Dr. Nita Kumar

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