Pushed online during Covid-19, teachers remained a class apart
- Life during the Covid-19 pandemic has been a time of learning for all and particularly for teachers. Overnight, educators in both private and government schools were forced to completely reinvent themselves and their ways of teaching.
Life during the Covid-19 pandemic has been a time of learning for all and particularly for teachers. Overnight, educators in both private and government schools were forced to completely reinvent themselves and their ways of teaching, in order to take classrooms to the homes of students via an impersonal two-dimensional screen.
A year after schools stopped in-person classes in March 2020, teachers say it has been a time unlike any other in their careers. A time when they had to undertake a major skills upgrade — many attended extensive training to use technology -- and think on their feet to build content that suits the new normal, come up creative ideas to engage students virtually, and find new ways to assess students remotely.
The sudden shift to online mode of learning posed several questions: What is to be taught online? What is the template to create online content? And, how can one teach online with only a minimal knowledge of online teaching tools? Neither schools not the state education department had all the answers. So they started with the basics -- training teachers for the new task at hand. Teachers were speedily taught to use technology and to develop online study material.
Gopal Krishnan, a mathematics teacher at Sarvodaya Bal Vidyalaya in Subhash Nagar, said the pandemic came as a “sudden shock” for teachers.
“Suddenly, we were deprived of face-to-face interactions with students. We were asked to switch to online mode and that was challenging. Although we knew about the existence of many teaching-learning tools, we were not using them in our day-to-day classes. The first challenge was to connect with students virtually. Initially, we were completely dependent on WhatsApp groups and not everyone was available there. Gradually, we shifted to other modes of online classes, including Zoom and Google classrooms,” he said.
He says teaching maths online was a major challenge. “In the beginning, we were not aware of the template to create online content to teach mathematics. But, later, the state education department formed an academic team of teachers to create content for different subjects for all government schools on a daily basis,” Krishanan said.
Archana Raichandani, who teaches physics at The Indian School, a private institution in south Delhi, said teachers learned “step-by-step” to adapt to the “new normal”. “We used to rack our brains for ways to engage students virtually -- I tried different ways, including presentations and using my notebook as a blackboard and phone as a camera,” she said.
Another major challenge was to hold students’ attention during virtual classes. It was even more challenging for teachers of younger classes. Vineeta Nanda, a primary teacher at Mount Abu Public School, said, “We had to create content that is more engaging and interactive. Many students used to switch off cameras and mute themselves during online classes. It is very challenging to hold the interest of students, especially when they are confined at home. We had heart-to-heart sessions with them and also organised Zoom birthday parties to make them more involved.”
For thousands of government teachers, who were also engaged in Covid-19 duties, the online process was even more tasking. Alok k Mishra, a political science teacher at Sarvodaya Bal Vidyalaya Nithari and a mentor Delhi government teacher, was involved in pandemic work for over four months last year. “I was exempted from taking online classes while on Covid duty, but as a mentor teacher, I had to prepare worksheets for students. I used to do that either while performing my duties at the quarantine centre or after that. When I resumed online classes, I encountered another challenge. Many of my students were from families that had just one smartphone between them and they would not have the device during the day. I had to take classes in shifts for such students,” he said.
In government schools, most students did not have access to smart devices or the internet and had to depend on worksheets or assignments sent by teachers, the hardcopies of which could be collected from schools.
Lack of smart devices at home and poor connectivity proved a hurdle for several teachers as well. “I had one laptop at home and I had to share that with my two children. It was so challenging to take classes online from home. I had to seek permission from my principal to visit the school to take classes in October,” said an English teacher working at a private school in east Delhi.
A teacher employed with a north civic body run school in Jahangirpuri, requesting anonymity, said, “Initially, I did not have a Wi-Fi connection at home and the daily data limit of my internet plan was 1.5 GB. It would get exhausted in downloading and uploading videos on WhatsApp groups, watching YouTube content for making notes, and taking online classes on WhatsApp.”
Assessments were another challenge. “There was no way to take a normal pen-and-paper exam. We used several methods to assess students, including online projects, vivas, sending Google forms with questions and worksheets,” said Raichandani.
With schools currently reopening in a staggered manner, teachers are staring at yet another challenge -- familiarising students with in-person classes. “First of all, we have to mentally prepare them to return to their earlier schedule — wake up early, get dressed and reach school. Also, they have lost the practice of writing and the habit of engaging and interacting with other students. We will have to work on all these,” Nanda said.