From blackboard to smartphone: Are online classrooms the way forward?
Photo Credit: Twitter

It has been just above two months since our entire lives, and outlook towards everything we have known to-date, have been hijacked completely. The most visibly affected community of our entire population has been the young ones — the ones who march or ride their school buses to school in uniforms every day. Life, as they knew it, has just been suspended. So, no going to schools, no playing at the neighbourhood playgrounds, no chit-chatting with tiny friends, and no sharing tiffin boxes, no...nothing. So, what NOW?

An unfamiliar arrangement

There is no point logically arguing with these tiny citizens that this is all for their own good and to keep them, and all of us, safe — they just have nothing else to fill their days with. So, in a last ditch attempt, many educational institutes have shifted at least a portion of their activities online to keep engaging the students. While there are many companies that have been offering studies online, and there has been an arguably growing community of parents who have been homeschooling their wards with the help of these companies, studying online has not been an option of choice for Indian parents and students so far.

Given the circumstance we are in today, unimaginable to say the least till it hit us on the head, any option that is still possible should be viable — or is it?

A question of capability

Romi*, a teacher/co-ordinator with over two decades of experience in a prominent suburban school points out the casual manner in which the entire arrangement had to be carried. “The pandemic hit like a bolt out of the blue, and we all sat home to stay safe, hoping a few weeks would be all it takes to set all issues to rest. Only after the initial wave of fear subsided did we realise that while on paper it is a clean-cut operation to set up the study-from-home arrangement, in a spread-out city such as ours where availability of network and electricity is still an issue, this is quite an unviable option,” she opined.

She continues decidedly, “While every set of hands has a smartphone and every household has a television set, our society does not deem it necessary that each home have a computer or laptop and a room dedicated to studying – a necessary facet of studying online, according to me.” When enquired about the necessity of these requirements, she smiles. “When we conduct classes in the school, it’s us teachers and the students. If there have been complaints, it has usually been by us. In these few weeks of online studies, however, parents have been unwelcome guests and there have already been quite a few run-ins with us.”

According to her, the list of complaints is long and all encompassing – the teachers’ accents, manner of speech, attitude, etc. Calling out this bullying without calling it that she affirms that “Everything is under scrutiny now, everything that never mattered before. I know for a fact that the pressure on us teachers has mounted to unknown heights in these online classrooms with this new angle of interference. With the governments yet to decide (by July) the date of re-opening schools and colleges, I am winging it one day at a time as are most educators. It is this unwelcome factor that makes me question the viability of virtual classrooms in our culture.”

Baby’s day in

A standard 7 student of a renowned international school, Samir* is upfront about the fact that he is unhappy with the online classroom situation. What complicates matters is his being an only child to an anxious mother. “My mother keeps an eye on me all the time. My school hours were my only respite and I had so much fun playing with my two friends at lunch hour and before boarding the bus to return home. Because once home, she doesn’t let me go down to play in case I hurt myself. So the lockdown is her dream and my nightmare!”

“As if that’s not enough, she even eavesdrops on my studies and jumps in with her thoughts to the teacher directly and often when the class is in session. Once school starts, I will have to apologise to all my teachers for her behaviour,” wistfully complains Samir. “I hope that’s soon.”

Moms and the city

Vinny*, his mother, counters, “Even without the novel Corona virus there are so many elements we need to protect our children from today that I am on the edge from the moment he is out of the house. The best thing to come out of this situation is that Samir in front of me. I can’t help overhear his classes – we live in a one-room flat. Though, yes, I’ll try to curb my enthusiasm about correcting his teachers. Or discussing their faults on the parents WhatsApp groups,” she admits in a light vein.

When talking about the monsoons that visit our city, she admits to have a thumping heart on every rainy morning. “He takes the bus so he’s safe but I shudder at the thought of children who take the bus and train in these raging rains. I’m happy to have children study online in the monsoon and be safe.”

So...

Even from this slim picking of the population, I am clear that the one thing that COVID-19 has failed in doing is revolutionise the Indian education system. While online is the only way as a stop-gap, temporary solution, it is hardly likely to be implemented as a full-time resolution of sorts when it comes to education in India. You should see Samir shudder at the mere suggestion. “I hope schools start soon, or even late. I don’t mind, I’ll wait – but I want them to open again.”

(Note: Names with (*) have been changed to protect their identity.)

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