THE NEW SUNDAY EXPRESS VOICES ANIRBAN GANGULY ANAND NEELAKANTAN RAVI SHANKAR SHINIE ANTONY SIDDHARTH DASGUPTA MATA AMRITANANDAMAYI MAGAZINE BUFFET PEOPLE WELLNESS BOOKS FOOD ART & CULTURE ENTERTAINMENT AUGUST 16 2020 SUNDAY PAGES 12 Class of 2020 Zoom has become the new classroom. Google Hangout the playground and Microsoft Teams the blackboard. But are all stakeholders up to the game? The National Education Policy, with its vision for digital education, may be the answer. By SMITHA VERMA N o more early mornings, rushed breakfasts and hour-long commutes in a noisy bus to school. When Palak, a 14-year-old from Chandigarh, first got a message on her class WhatsApp group that her school was to start online classes, she was ecstatic. Now she could wake up at her own pace, log on to her iPad to mark attendance and even play music in the background during breaks. Also, if some classes bored her, she could easily turn off her camera and pretend there was a network issue and chat with her friends instead. Her mother Jyoti Arora was equally pleased with the turn of events. She could have her morning tea without worrying about packing her daughter’s tiffin and at the same time monitor her child’s school activities sitting at home. A few hundred kilometres away, in a modest apartment in Kolkata, Sarbani Sen was reading to her daughter when she got an email notification. Her threeyear-old daughter’s school was going to start online classes soon. Sen allowed herself a faint smile and hoped that while her daughter was busy with school, she could use the time to pick up more writing assignments. 24% households in India have some member with access to internet 8% of all households with members aged 5-24 have both a computer and an internet connection 11% households possess a computer `469 crore is the government’s budget for digital learning for 2020-21 280 million students will be in school by 2021 in India $1.96 billion will be the market for online education in India in 2021 (As per National Sample Survey 2017-18 and KPMG-Google reports) On the other side of the spectrum, physics teacher Anita Rajagopalan (name changed on request) from Navi Mumbai spent a sleepless night before her first online class. Her biggest concern was how to navigate through the various applications on her laptop—a gadget she had only used for an email or two in the past. It was soon to become her teaching assistant. “My nervousness was worse than my first day as a teacher 23 years ago,” Rajagopalan says. Her fears weren’t unwarranted. In the middle of her first class the next day, she got logged out accidentally and spent several anxious minutes figuring out how to get back on track. “There was the added embarrassment of struggling with technology in front of my students,” she says. A week into these classes, Rajagopalan was exhausted, angry and doubtful of her abilities as a teacher. Four months down the line, things have changed for almost all the stakeholders. While Palak admits to missing her friends, teachers and even the “blackboard and chalk”, her mother misses her chirpy tales of school. Sen, on the other hand, has written to her daughter’s school urging them not to make online classes mandatory “My . daughter refuses to sit at one place. The harder I try, the more she resists,” she says. On her part, Sen religiously logs in during school hours and makes her daughter practice the concepts later in the day For Rajagopalan, . who has aced her tech skills, it’s the “eye-contact with my students” that she misses most. The school, which was once a building buzzing with ideas, crowded playgrounds and stocked up library, is now a screen, unfamiliar in many ways and yet identical. “Initially, shifting an up and running school into an online “Several parents have reached out to me. Lack of interest in an online class is the primary concern. There are also parents who judge the way a class is conducted.” NEHA BANSAL, Holistic medicine practitioner, Gurugram “I will open the school if the government asks me to. But despite following safety measures can I guarantee that not even one student will contract Covid-19?” AMEETA MULLA WATTAL, Principal, Springdales School, Pusa Road, Delhi space was a daunting task. Now teachers have unlearnt and re-learnt to adapt to the new world order. But we don’t know how far we have succeeded,” says Ameeta Mulla Wattal, principal, Springdales School, Pusa Road, Delhi. In a world ravaged by the pandemic, online learning has come as succour to traditional models of schooling. According to a report released by KPMG India and Google in 2017, titled ‘Online Education in India: 2021’, the market for online education in the country is expected to reach $1.96 billion in 2021 from $247 million in 2016, eight times the growth. The report highlighted how an estimated 280 million students are expected to be in schools by 2021 with online primary and secondary supplemental education to be the dominant category of courses. It would have a 39 percent market share in 2021. The role of technology is not lost on anyone. The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, approved by the Union Cabinet last month, has a vision for digital education. Under the policy, a new autonomous body—National Educational Technology Forum (NETF)—will be set up which will develop digital content for institutions and integrate technological advancements into classrooms. Are we on our way to create the next-generation learners? “It was overdue,” says Meeta Sengupta, Delhi-based educationist. But she would have rather had online learning to be teacher-led than crisis-driven. “Then we would not have thought of this as a shock,” she adds. Undoubtedly, it came as a shock for many Schools in the . country, even the most sophisticated ones with tech-savvy teachers, have always relied on traditional methods of teaching. All of that went for a toss when the system moved to a space where the studentteacher relationship was at the mercy of an internet connection. “It’s not so simple and straightforward. The impact of this change will be huge and felt differently at many levels,” says Farishta Dastur Mukerji, a psychotherapist and school counsellor from Kolkata. In most parts of the world, schools are unlikely to reopen this year. The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) has said that over 154 crore students around the world are affected due to the Covid-related school closures. It has suggested a six-point strategy that includes adopting distance learning practices to combat the problem. As India enters into the last unlock mode on August 31, schools may reopen for senior students and in a staggered manner for middle school children thereafter. But are they prepared? “I will open the school if the government asks me to. But despite following the best of hygiene and health safety measures, can I guarantee that not even one student will contract Covid-19?” Wattal asks. “The ensuing dilemma of parents, students and schools has resulted in a situation where no one knows what is the best alternative available,” Mukerji says. SCHOOL IN LIMBO In early March, Cherry Goyal, HoD-English, Maharani Gayatri Devi Girls’ School, Jaipur, read about how schools in Italy were shutting down due to the pandemic. She knew it was only a matter of time before India followed suit. Goyal started learning the finer nuances of “A teacher can handle a class of 40 if she is able to make eye-contact, engage with back-benchers and control the distractions. In an online space, the teacher fails to do so.” GK KARANTH, Sociologist, Bengaluru technology But many of her . peers were woefully unprepared. “In the first week of April, we started our online classes. Several teachers, including me, had trouble figuring out the technicalities. But over a period of time, we attended several workshops and by July we were well-versed with all the aspects,” Goyal says. By July even extra-curricular activities had moved online. Parent-teacher meetings, yoga, physical education, recorded music lessons and even inter-school activities have been conducted from homes. “I guess the only thing we have not been able to manage is the laboratory practical,” Rajagopalan says. Has the transition been easy? “It never was, and never will be,” says Sindhu Nair, a senior school maths teacher at Army School, Jaisalmer. Having the gadget was one issue, the other was availability of high-end technology to conduct classes. “Many of my colleagues upgraded their laptops or smartphones,” Nair says. Then there is student behaviour. Low attendance, late logging in or keeping cameras switched off citing network issues, lack of attention, abusive comments under anonymous handles are the most common issues faced by teachers. “There is the added pressure of our own household chores, besides getting our kids to attend their online classes. All of this has made online teaching a dreaded activity,” Rajagopalan says. Moreover, experts maintain that if the curriculum is transferred straight from an offline mode to an online system, the static uploaded material fails to excite students. “In a classroom a teacher can encourage a disinterested student, but in an online mode, there are many names and few faces,” says Rajagopalan. She combines three sections into a single class. “I have 120 students in a 40-minute session. How many of them do you think will clear their doubts and how many will I be able to clarify,” she asks. Examinations, a sacrosanct benchmark through which Indian kids are quantified, have been carried out by most schools. The formative assessment, which should ideally work in a digital pedagogy, is yet to be explored fully by schools. Instead, most have replicated Turn to page 2
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