Expert View

Covid Chronicles – Challenges with Online Education

Pavani Dokka

By Pavani Dokka, Vice Principal, Tatva Global School, Hyderabad
It is the teacher that makes the difference, Not the classroom whether real or virtual!

The Pandemic Pandemonium:
Panic set in when the pandemic broke out. Among the many sectors that took a blow, the education sector was one of the worst hit. Students were left in the lurch, teachers were confounded, educational institutions were driven to a corner and parents were left vulnerable and frustrated. Government just added to misery by not having a clear and consistent plan or policy. The whole educational system from elementary to the highest level collapsed during the lockdown period – not only in India but across the globe. It is time to seriously rethink, revamp and redesign our education system as a result of the current situation. However, the fact is that no pedagogical approach can replace the prime position of formal education with direct interaction between the teacher and the pupil in a classroom environment.
Hope in times of despair-Online Classes!:
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However, every cloud has a silver lining. A ray of hope peeped in through the haze that engulfed the world. No, it was not an antidote to the pandemic – but a beam of hope on how education could still move forward, if not standing tall, at least creeping on all fours, initially. The virtual world came to our rescue. Online education started to emerge as a strong alternative, whereby teaching was undertaken remotely and on digital platforms. Video conferencing apps started becoming the norm for imparting education and learning. With this sudden shift away from the classroom in many parts of the globe, some are wondering whether the adoption of online learning will continue to persist post the pandemic, and if so, how such a shift would impact education worldwide.
Though met with a certain amount of suspicion bordering on disdain, online classes proved to be the spark that was needed to ignite the revolution of online education and eventually took the world by storm. Slowly but surely all institutions started to move towards online teaching. New norms were established to ensure proper learning and teaching happened. PowerPoint presentations, Videos, Voice explanations of lessons, came into prominence. The fear of technology that teachers had was destroyed and all started to master the art of online teaching. Whether it was language apps, virtual tutoring, video conferencing tools, or online learning software, there was a significant surge in usage post-COVID-19.

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Very soon and inevitably, examinations came into the picture as teaching and testing go hand in hand. Multiple choice questions found new meaning and acceptance as an effective way of testing the students understanding through innovative techniques of questioning. New methods of conducting exams were devised. Students started to write exams at home and send in their work online through email for correction with parents maintaining an active vigil. It’s pretty obvious that parents too must have had a lot of learning and unlearning happening in this whole process.

Unfettered and unlimited energy – chained to the chair:

The biggest challenge that teachers and parents faced must have been the very difficult task of curbing the exuberance of youth, bustling with energy, confining them to sitting at one place, facing the camera instead of a livewire in front of them. Students are fidgety, tend to move about and find it very difficult to be chained to the chair. This pandemic forced them to do the opposite of what nature had ingrained in them.
And then you have the student’s innovative and naughty side of the brain getting to work, finding ways and means of overcoming the boredom of sitting in solitude for long hours, without the energy, fun and frolic that comes with sitting amidst their friends in a normal class. So these students then resort to hacking passwords, sending mischievous messages to someone on behalf of someone and then sit back to watch the mayhem unfold…
Teaching the Teachers- Challenging Covid!:
This whole process also involved up-skilling and motivating teachers, organising counselling sessions for stakeholders such as teachers, parents and students by schools and institutions. Teachers had to put in a continuous effort to provide customised teaching-learning material suitable for online classes for the continued schooling of children. Schools had to spruce up their existing online platforms, apps and provide training to teachers to use these apps and platforms to the optimum level.
Though online classes provided a break-through for schools to continue teaching, it also brought to the fore some stark persistent realities of Indian society characterised by social inequalities in terms of availability of resources, essential to access these online classes/platforms. These digital initiatives continued the power of elite schools over the education system, resulting in the digital divide between rural and urban and rich and poor.
Peeping Parents!
With all these challenges, we then have peeping parents who probably were not taught what privacy is. They refer to Google to test the teacher’s knowledge. Isn’t that funny? But yes, the teacher’s patience was tested by different people in different ways!
We have had issues where parents record teachers’ classes, then call them up to question them about the method of teaching. It’s also very awkward for the teachers to have the whole family watching them while teaching. No wonder why schools don’t let parents into their campuses. Let us Imagine we have been given a task by our manager at work and then we have our client / customer and their team (not colleagues) gathered around us, just to see how we go about doing the assigned task!! Won’t it be intimidating…?

The Great Gap: The Haves and the Have Not’s:

Students and teachers to have their struggles while accessing these online platforms. Many students have not been able to access the internet, and are devoid of electronic gadgets and laptop, phone or computer or even radio and TV due to financial constraints. Those students who have facilities to attend to online classes faced barriers in terms of unavailability of physical space, which is equally applicable to teachers who are supposed to conduct online classes from the confines of their home.
Right to Education:

It should be noted here that missing from all the narratives of online education is the question of equity and equality, the cornerstone of the Constitution of India. Envisioned in the Constitution of India is the aim of providing equality of educational opportunities to all citizens irrespective of caste, class, gender and religion. Article 29 (1) provides for equal access to educational institutions maintained by the State without discrimination on grounds only of religion, race, caste, language or any of them. Similarly, the Right to Education Act 2009, mandates to provide equitable quality education to all children from six to 14 years of age. However, all the efforts of the government to facilitate education processes during the pandemic draws attention to the fact that the milieu of public/government education system, and low fee private school or affordable private schools, are out of the purview of government initiatives of online education. The stark realities of social inequalities are proving to be the greatest barrier to access online education.

Focus on the positives:

Let’s train our mind to see the good in everything. Positivity is a choice. The happiness of our life depends on the quality of our thoughts. As a common man, there is nothing we can do about a virus. Online training provides a safe and effective alternative to the classroom. We can learn from the safety of our home. Also, studying from the comfort of your own home — or anywhere else with internet access – allows you to relax and take advantage of the flexibility of online learning. There is no need to get dressed up or travel to and from the classroom. Students can spend as much time as they need on the course material and go back to review it at any time. Since quizzes and tests are graded automatically, you receive immediate results and feedback. That gives us more time to focus on improving our skills and learning the material.

Humanity is being tested as never before but is also rising to the challenge. Dealing with uncertainty and flat growth is the new business normal. Digital transformation is receiving a boost as never before, and sectors like gaming, online education and IT security are witnessing significant growth.

While the coronavirus has put a hold on in-person education, online education has become the saviour. It may take us some more time for normalcy to be restored but in the meantime let’s collaborate against the Corona Virus and set the record straight. History is witness to unprecedented human resilience in response to extreme adversity. This too shall pass…and history will repeat.

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