Physical classes are driven by students, their responses and reactions
The entire school community is trying to help students thrive in a space largely monopolised by a virtual world.
The academic impact of the learning gaps created by the pandemic is difficult to measure in the present time. Children are missing out on mastering writing, reading and numeracy skills. Learning inequities have been widened as there are no tests to assess students. Students writing tests at home could have had the assistance of elders. Schools operating remotely are unable to address the skill enhancement of students. Students without internet, laptops and belonging to lower-income groups will have a greater learning loss.
The concentration span of children is a matter of emerging concern. The earlier excitement seen in the initial days of online classes, especially in students below 10 years of age, has seen a downward slope. Nurturing basic skills of reading and writing in young students virtually is proving to be strenuous and dull therefore leading to gaps accompanied by shrinking focus. Moreover, during the progress of a serious lesson, the entry of family members interrupts the gravity of a lesson. Simultaneously, flexible timings, eating during classes and exiting at will are common problems.
• A total of 320 million learners in India have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and have transitioned to e-learning
• With huge regional and household disparities in access to the internet and technology, this transition has not been possible for all students and educators
• The rapid shift to e-learning prompted by the pandemic has revived long-standing issues of inequality and a digital divide in India that must be addressed by future economic, education and digitalisation policies
Teachers complain that reduced hours of teaching have complicated things. According to most teachers, it is almost impossible to complete reading tasks in a class involving more than five to six children as the already depleting concentration and attention start wandering. Attention span, they say, is shorter at home than at school.
Teachers say online classes for them is like an attempt to learn to drive on a road while simultaneously covering it with concrete, shooing cows off the road and following manual directions.
Physical classes are driven by students, their responses and reactions — hands in the air, faces lit up, fist bumps when they share a new idea. It is a feeling of being lost without the daily hugs and dose of reality that is exchanged. Teaching involves human connection; teachers feel that has been taken away from them. No amount of online learning can replace the power and potential of the student-teacher relationship and the learning that happens in that context.
Teaching is not trying to figure out how Zoom works or staring at the screen all day. Teaching is loving the children and building a connection, crying with them, laughing with them, creating memories which children carry lifelong.
On the other hand, students say they feel less productive and miss the social aspect of school. Internet access, Wi-Fi problems persist in many places. Unable to join the online classes and keep up with assignments, students feel stressed and tend to procrastinate. This could also lead to a feeling of isolation.
Standardised tests might traumatise them further. This generation is learning a lot outside the physical classroom. How nations are coping with a pandemic, helplessness of governments to respond to uncertainties and unpreparedness to address health issues, family losses, housing instability, illness, job losses. Pandemic-related disruptions and remote schools have held back many students from going up the ladder. It will be unjustified to have them repeat a grade or offering them below the grade level work will make them feel bad. To bridge the learning gap in school, tutoring from trained teachers ideally one on one or in small groups can help students catch up academically.
The way forward would be to enhance the digital skills of teachers and children. Moreover, state and central governments must ensure internet connectivity for all. During these uncertain times, the nation must work on capacity-building of young minds.
The author is chairperson, KiiT International School.
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