Delhi: A year of learning without going to school
It has been a year since students up to class 8 in Delhi have been to school; met and interacted with classmates; stepped onto a ground to play with friends; or sat in a class with a blackboard, to learn the pen and paper way. The Covid-19 pandemic and the shutdown it entailed have changed school life for children like never before. On March 19, 2020, when the Delhi government had first announced closure of schools as a precautionary measure till the 31st of that month, many had thought that it was a temporary measure. But a year on, the shutdown in still in force and online classes have become the norm.
Although Delhi schools have reopened for classes 9 to 12, middle-level students are still waiting to return to schools. HT speaks to some of those students and their parents to understand how a year without going to school has been for them.
A year of sharing one smartphone with two siblings
Khusboo Kumari (12) Class 7, RKV, Dallupura
Khushbhoo Kumari, 12, spent the entire year sharing the only smartphone in her family with her two siblings. The resident of east Delhi’s Dallupura said every day, her younger brother first uses the phone to attend online classes; he then passes it to their older sister, and then it is her turn. “The phone heats up quickly and so we have to give it a rest in between. The internet limit also gets exhausted daily, sometimes in the middle of my work,” she said.
Like thousands of other migrant families, Kushboo’s family also had to return to their home town in Bihar when the nationwide lockdown was announced on March 25 to contain the pandemic. The children could not continue their studies for several months after that.
The family returned to Delhi in July but they did not own a smartphone till October. “The teachers had completed a large part of the syllabus by the time I could join classes virtually. It took a lot of time to catch up with my classmates,” she said
Although Khusboo’s teachers send her daily worksheets, videos, and audios of lessons on the class WhatsApp group, she found it difficult to understand topics virtually. “I had to join a tuition because I had a hard time understanding the subjects virtually,” she said.
Lack of space also remained a major issue for her throughout the year. “My family of five lives in a one-room set and it’s so difficult for us to study with everyone around. We used to get that space at school. I miss the playground, my dance classes and the extracurricular activities we would do at school. There was no space to do all that at home,” Khusboo said.
Her mother Sunita Chaudhary said, “There are so many things children get to do in school that they can’t do at home. We have just one room. We live, cook, sleep and do everything there. My children are irritated most of the time in that confined space. We just hope their schools reopen at the earliest.”
Completed a year in new school without actually going there
Raafi Ali (12), Class 6, SBV, Rouse Avenue
In March 2020, Raafi Ali, a resident of Churiwalan area of Chandni Chowk, did not know that he would spend the first year at his new school without actually going there. The 12-year-old had to switch schools since his previous one was only up to class 5.
A year after enrolling in class 6, at Sarvodaya Bal Vidyalaya in Rouse Avenue, Ali is still waiting to meet his classmates and teachers in person. “I was looking forward to joining a new school and making new friends. But I could not attend even one session there until now. I have only interacted with my classmates on our WhatsApp group. I don’t know anyone personally. In my previous school, I used to have a lot of friends. I miss that,” he said.
His mother Nazia, a homemaker, said the family had to enrol Ali in a government school -- he earlier studied in a private school -- due to financial difficulties wrought by the pandemic. “He was upset as his friends were going to other schools. But teachers of his new school supported him all the way. They sent online study material on class WhatsApp groups every day for the past one year.”
Ali said he felt left out during class interactions. “My other classmates often discuss their school days during the online classes and I had nothing in common with them. I would feel so left out.”
Nazia said Ali is unable to focus on his studies for the past year. “Earlier, we used to tell children to spend less time on smartphones and now, that device has become their only medium of learning. Children are now so used to spending time on screen that they cannot concentrate even for 15 minutes when asked to study from books,” she said.
A year of depending on parents; little physical activity
Rehansh Sharma (5), Kindergarten, Mount Abu Public School at Rohini
Five-year-old Rehansh Sharma has been in school for just a year when the pandemic struck and schools were shut. He attended his entire kindergarten (KG) remotely and was recently promoted from Mount Abu Junior Public School in Rohini to the senior wing of the school in class 1, through a virtual graduation ceremony.
Rehansh’s mother, Deepika Sharma, who works as an HR manager with a private firm, said her son has missed a crucial year of school life. “Although learning continued online throughout the year, so many other things were missing. His routine has changed completely, so as his sleeping cycle and eating habits. There was little physical activity throughout the year. Children used to play in groups in school but now Rehansh doesn’t like to go to the park alone. Besides, in the online mode, kids are studying in isolation sitting at their homes. The involvement that a group activity entails had gone missing.”
Sharma said she has observed several changes in the behaviour in her son over the past year. “Kids as young as Rehansh were living in isolation -- they were not allowed outside, or to meet their friends and cousins. This isolation frustrated them. They had nothing to do and one can’t expect such young children to study the whole day. He has become hyper and more dependent on me. It will be a major challenge to make him comfortable with school because he now feels insecure without me around,” she said.
Rehansh has vague memories of his only year in school. He misses drawing classes, group activities, and sharing lunch with friends. “Sometimes during online classes, my friends and I discuss when our school will reopen and we would get to do all those things again,” he said.
A year of missing friends and classmates
Rania Mavinkurve (14), Class 8, Springdales School Pusa Road
For Rania Mavinkurve, a class 8 student at Springdales School, Pusa Road, the past one year was all the more challenging as she could not meet her friends and classmates. The 14-year-old said she was regular with online classes, but she missed the brick and mortar classrooms like never before. “We understand better when the teacher teaches us face to face. That personal touch was completely lacking throughout the year. We learn so much when we are with children of our age. I miss being surrounded by my classmates,” she said.
Rania, a resident of Rajouri Garden, said most of her friends have forgotten how to write properly. “We have been mostly typing on the laptop throughout the year and that has affected my writing skills. In the classroom, we used to have competitions among ourselves while taking notes and that has always kept my writing good. That healthy competition among classmates is also missing in virtual classes. I hope my class 9 begins with in-person classes since it will be a challenging year -- for the first time, we will have a proper 80 mark theory exam,” she said.
Her mother Moulashri Dubey Mavinkurve, a businesswoman, recalled several changes she witnessed in Rania’s behaviour initially when schools were closed and classes shifted online. “There were instances when she would break down and ask me till when she would be confined in the house. There was literally no physical activity. We don’t have kids of her age group in our neighbourhood and there was no one to play with her. She has become hyper sensitive,” she said.
Rania, who has been learning Kathak for the past nine years, had to switch to online dance classes. “Online classes were difficult -- you are just told what to do and how to improve on your own. I miss my dance class friends while practising. We used to have so much fun.”
A year at home more challenging for children with special needs
Kartik Sharma, 10 Special wing, St Mary’s School, Dwarka
Kartik Sharma, 10, a child with a mild autism spectrum, was one among thousands of children with special needs who could not attend school throughout the year. He found it difficult to adjust to a lifestyle without social interaction. His oral motor exercises and occupational therapies (OTs), provided by professionals at the school, was also discontinued.
His mother Vibha Sharma, a homemaker, said kartik would become restless and angry when he failed to communicate anything to the parents. “My son can’t speak. He has some understanding of pointing at things he needs. It was very difficult to make him understand that he would now attend classes via smartphone. He would become so angry when we make him sit and study at home. In school, his teachers teach everything through group activities and that was missing at home,” she said.
Sharma said her child cannot communicate with his classmates like other children do over the phone. “Even talking to your friends over the phone makes a lot of difference. But my son can’t even do that. Sometimes during online classes, the teacher asks students to interact. Those who can speak say hello to each other but Karthik can’t even participate in that,” she said.
She said with the online study material provided by the school, she managed to keep Kartik up to date in terms of learning. However, he could not properly continue his oral motor exercises and OTs. “We can’t make him do the exercises the way speech therapists do in school. Similarly, we don’t have the equipment required for occupational training at home. We can’t keep a trampoline for jumping exercises. I am really worried about his speech training,” she said.