New Delhi: The rise in Covid-19 cases has prompted several state governments to reissue school closure instructions as they did during the first and second waves of the pandemic. As a result, after a brief window where students returned to their classrooms, they were once again forced back into online learning.
The transition has not been easy for students, especially those from poor families, who have little or no access to online learning tools like personal computers, tablets or smartphones. It was equally difficult for the teachers, who struggled to ensure there were no disruptions. They believe that governments should provide them with alternative methods — outside of online courses — to reach out to these students.
While some teachers suggest that state governments should set up a free radio service or a direct-to-home television channel for students so that lesson content can be broadcast, others believe that authorities should allow street classrooms by allocating gardens or schoolyards for rotating classes. In May 2020, the Ministry of Education turned to DTH channels to provide education to students during school closures. According to a ministry statement: “The content will be broadcast on the 12 ‘Swayam Prabha’ channels that the ministry has on DTH platforms such as Airtel and Dish TV. The initiative will be part of a larger “PM e-vidya” package.
While ThePrint has confirmed that the services are working, teachers are clearly unaware of it.
Phone calls, an email and a text message to the ministry for this story did not elicit a response. This article will be updated once it does.
ThePrint also contacted Himanshu Gupta, Director of Delhi Department of Education, and Kakarla Usha, Principal Secretary for School Education in Tamil Nadu, through phone calls and text messages, but got no response. only at the time of publication of this report. This article will be updated when they respond.
Currently, many public schools are resorting to teaching via WhatsApp voice notes, while others are trying to use online services provided by state governments, various teachers told ThePrint.
Following the first Covid lockdown, imposed in March 2020, students would have missed more than 500 days physical lessons. According to Data from the Unified District Information System for Education (UDISE+) published last year by the central government for 2019-20, nearly 78% of schools (government and private) in India had no internet facilities and more than 61% had no computers.
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“Online learning doesn’t work for everyone”
Hitesh, a teacher at Thakkar Public School in Ahmedabad, said his school uses a Microsoft link to hold online lessons, but student attendance has dropped significantly as not all of them have access to phones or Internet.
“The minute we see news of school closures, we know our students are going to suffer. This had a negative impact on student learning. Can you imagine that over 50% of my students don’t even have a phone to study. How do we teach them? he told ThePrint.
For many teachers, their duties go beyond education. A 57-year-old political science teacher who works at a public school in Delhi’s Tughlakabad district told ThePrint on condition of anonymity that there have been instances where teachers have contacted students who regularly miss classes, only to hear them say they haven’t eaten in days. “In such cases, we do our best to provide as much food as possible so that our students do not have to suffer,” she added.
She added that for students who miss online classes due to lack of constant access to phones, they resort to WhatsApp voice notes: “Since most of our students have returned home to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, they cannot attend online classes due to lack of constant access to phones and connectivity. Making WhatAapp voice notes is the only means of communication. We send them lessons and dictate questions and answers via the app. Students can study using them whenever a phone is available.
Pupils who live near the school can drop off their notebooks for verification. “They have to submit their notebooks once every few days. Once these books arrive, they are disinfected and put away for three days, after which we wear masks and gloves and check them,” she said, adding that even though their work has doubled, they are still doing their best. best to help their students.
Teachers from other parts of the country ThePrint spoke to, including Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan, also said the constant school closures were having a detrimental impact on student learning. , adding that attendance in online courses dropped significantly in the middle of the third wave.
Shivani Agrawal, who looks after two schools run by the civic body — one at Andheri in Mumbai and the other at Juhu — under the umbrella of his NGO Nagrik Satta, told ThePrint that the closure of schools has been a big challenge for teachers.
“The student-teacher connection is completely lost. We do not yet know what type of learning loss has occurred among students due to school closures. Attendance has dropped to 10-20% as most students do not have phones or have started doing odd jobs to support their families,” she added.
A Chennai teacher, who did not wish to be named, told ThePrint he had to go door to door to his students to check if they were able to study. “More than anything else, the pandemic has reduced learning assessments to zero. There is no way to tell if a student has actually understood the concepts or if they are simply copying the answers into their tests,” he added.
Radio, street classes: teachers offer alternatives
Sant Ram, a teacher at Sarvodaya Bal Vidyalaya in Subhash Nagar, Delhi, believes there should be alternatives to online learning available to them to ensure education does not come to a halt despite school closures.
“During the months when schools reopened, we witnessed 100 per cent attendance. Then it fell back to 10% with an increase in cases. When we already know that online education as a medium has completely failed for our students, why do we continue to rely on it? he told ThePrint.
“Instead, state governments should help set up a free radio service or children’s DTH channel where course content can be streamed for students in all states. Not all teachers can afford to record videos of themselves teaching,” he added.
In July 2020, the central government had in its guidelines said that children who do not have access to facilities such as smartphones, internet, television and radio can be taught through community methods. The guidelines, prepared by the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT), had listed three modes of learning – online, partially online and offline.
The Center had suggested that state and district authorities could use union panchayat offices, public places or loudspeakers to deliver mass education. However, the implementation of this has been minimal, barring exceptions like the Bankathi village in the Dumka district of Jharkhand, where a school principal installed loudspeakers to give lessons, or in Haryana, where the education department allocated four All India Radio (AIR) stations to broadcast educational content for students.
Leena Sharma, a public school teacher in Bangreda village on the Rajasthan-MP border, said the internet connection in the village was patchy, making online education almost impossible. “Most of our students’ parents are farmers and don’t have smartphones. Even for those with smartphones, poor connectivity forces our students to sit on terraces to download study materials,” she told ThePrint.
“Our greatest help is the radio education service provided by Shiksha Darshan. It is a service launched by the government of Rajasthan. As teachers, we always go door to door to raise awareness about education. We do our best to meet the needs of our students,” she added.
Hitesh of Thakkar Public School in Ahmedabad believes an additional provision for conducting street classes should be allowed while schools remain closed, where district authorities can allocate gardens or playgrounds for classes. in rotation.
“In 2020, after the confinement continued for two months, I decided to meet my students in the parks. We would make up and sit at a distance under a tree and I would solve their doubts. District officials should grant such provisions to schools where students cannot afford expensive phones,” he added.
For Lakshmi Devi, a public school teacher in Karnataka’s Savasuddi district, the only thing that has worked so far is meeting with her students twice a week. “All the students who have doubts or who don’t have a phone come to school twice a week. We discuss concepts and I help them with their doubts. For poor children, online education cannot replace the learning that takes place in physical classes,” she told ThePrint.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)
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