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February 05, 2021 Friday 04:19:19 PM IST

Balance Sheet of a Crisis: Education in Post-Covid Times

Rajagiri Round Table

The Covid-19 led closure of schools has come as a mixed blessing for the education system.  Even as uncertainty prevails on reopening educational institutions in India, teachers, parents and children seem to have adjusted and innovated with online tools and resources. A blended learning system is set to become the New Normal in Post-Covid times.
However, the negative impact created by the pandemic on children cannot be taken lightly.  Apart from mental stress, missing out school extracurricular activities and not being able to develop friendships are some of the commonly cited issues faced by children. There are concerns being raised about fall in learning outcomes
The 67th Rajagiri International Round Table Conference was a synergy discussion on the topic, Balance Sheet of a Crisis: Education in Pandemic Times on Saturday, 16th January 2021 via Zoom Meet in which students, ICT experts, educationists, teachers, parents and trainers participated from across the country.

The pandemic suddenly put the schools and colleges into a crisis because it had to suddenly go on virtual mode. However, when you look at the entire education system, it was meant for face-to-face teaching and never designed to be virtual, said Mr PB Kotur, author, educationist and Head of Global Freshers Programme at Wipro Ltd. He had written about Learning from Home almost three decades ago in a paper written in Kannada. “At that time everyone laughed at me,” he quipped.

In third week of March 2020, the schools had to encounter several problems in implementing online learning with lack of digital infrastructure the major issue. Initially, videos were recorded by teachers and posted on Whatsapp for download by parents. However, surveys showed that one way communication was not effective for teaching, according to Krupali Sanghvi, Computer Science Teacher at Udgam School for Children, Ahmedabad and Information Communications Technology ( ICT) Award Winner. The schools had labs, systems and connectivity but teachers, parents and students didn’t have access to devices and connectivity at home. Lakshmi Sree P, parent and teacher said many children were not bothered to join the online class on time, group discussion was lacking and many technical issues remain unsolved.

Teacher Training

Dr Suja Karthika, Founder and Chief Trainer at Exceller Training pointed out that online learning was already popular through Udemy and Coursera or other platforms.  “We must understand that this asynchronous mode of learning is not at all new. But regular schools and colleges were unaware of it. The model was already there, already established and successfully proven. There was a need to develop a structure that motivates and holds students accountable. This structure development is what took a lot of time.”

Vidya Bhosle, Abhinav Vidyalay, Dombivili, Mumbai said the pandemic has taught us both the positive and the negative. “As a teacher it took a lot of effort, pain to deliver content to students. Later as I adapted to ICT it became easier, time management was easier. It was initially a challenge to manage students online. They used to mute while answering questions or unmute when not required”

Teacher training posed the biggest challenge as they were a diverse age group beginning from early 20’s to 55 and even 60 years of age. It was difficult to make them understand the online platforms and apps. The period from March to May 2020 was used by schools to teach the teachers how to use online platforms.  “In my trainings I ensured that I didn't teach the software, but the software that goes along with the content pedagogy. If they were sharing for eg., MS Power Point, it has to be in a mode where students should not be able to scribble on your whiteboard,“  Krupali Sanghvi said.  According to Milan Banerjee, Sr Co-ordinator, Mount Litera Zee School, Bihar said that because of the pandemic teachers learnt the practices and use of technology and apps which they otherwise would have taken 10 years to learn.  NCERT conducted regular webinars in the evenings for teachers and e-Pathasala, an open source app was made available for them.

The lack of resources and technology were brought into the forefront during the pandemic, according to Dr Sheebamol Jacob, Certified Career Counsellor and academician. “Teaching and learning process became more transparent as an online class was now seen by atleast 30 people who were external to the system whereas in a school it is watched by only the school authorities.”

In online learning teachers need to understand how to give students breaks, a random one day break or a physical break to relieve stress. For eg. activities like searching for A to Z in the house- a  hour activity. “In classroom we test their knowledge but not the ability to recall. Recall and retrieval is the best way to deep learning, we forget that. So many online tools are available. You can do a mini test, a quick recap test, quiz where there are team boards or score boards kept which develops a sense of competition,” Dr Suja Karthika said.

Student Perspectives

Students also went through an unprecedented crisis in their lives. According to Ann Mariya Stasian, Grade XI, Bharathamatha CMI Public School, Kerala, it took away a great number of productive educational days of their life. “Online studies have taken away a year of interaction with friends,lack of physical activities resulting in obesity and health problems, eye problems and  internet abuses,” she said.  Veenal Vikramshi, Student of Abhinav Vidyalay, Mumbai took a more positive view. “We learnt a lot about ICT technologies and use of Google Meet and Zoom.”  Afreen Muskan, Ektara School in West Bengal was happy to learn about concepts of business, profit and loss apart from interacting with students and teachers online. While Alisha Ali, Ektara School, Bengal was happy to learn coding which helped her understand how software can solve problems in a logical and creative way. She was also happy to be told that it is an essential skill for the 21st century.


Online Resources

As the education stakeholders were trying to come to terms with the challenges of online learning in initial stages, the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) had already brought out a document that is known as alternative academic calendar, according to Prof. Ramakanta Mohalik, Professor of Regional Institute of Education, NCERT at Odisha.  “NCERT is not only working for well to do schools and families but also for downtrodden people, socially disadvantaged sections, students in rural area and tribal areas. A guideline was brought out and circulated to all state governments, and published in newspapers,” Prof Mohalik said. The preparation of academic calendar was one of the important contributions of NCERT during Covid which the nation will remember always, he said. NCERT developed e-content for all classes by end September and was provided free of cost.

Emotional Health

Dr Shyam Kumar, Psychologist, and Psychotherapist said that students and parents underwent behavioural and emotional problems as learning went online. “Students missed their peer group. Children release their mental stress through interpersonal relationships and now they were all glued for most of the time before mobile or laptop. This builds up a lot of anger, restlessness, depression, and anxiety. They also suffered irritability and sleep problems,” he said.


Nicy Mathew, Project Manager, Pallikkutam iSchool talked about the several initiatives taken by Rajagiri Media to help children creatively engaged at home with various theme-based activities. The Pallikkutam Pedagogy was developed so that children could imbibe entrepreneurial skills with less screen time and a mix of offline and online activities.

“Instead of an annual vacation why can't we send children once a month on projects such as agriculture, conservation, climate science or seeing rivers or going to slums projects topic wise and it will take the stress off. Students can present case studies in class which will improve communication skills and also take away the monotony of learning," Thomas George, Corporate Trainer felt.


The Future

The blended learning initiated during the pandemic should continue when schools reopen. Schools should invest in technology upgradation. “Teacher training on teaching technology and pedagogy (TTP) should continue and be integrated. Every school should follow a hybrid model,” Krupali Sanghvi said. She added that digital infrastructure doesn't cost much. Her school used Microsoft Teams which was free for education.  There may be occasions where parents may be reluctant to send children to school on reopening. Such children should be allowed to have online classes that can be enabled with a webcam placed in regular classrooms.

Dr Suja Karthika said that a diagnostics test has to be run on students to identify the weak areas and deficiencies in learning outcomes as schools reopen so that lapses in learning can be corrected through remedial classes. It should be done in a manner that doesn’t cause stress or anxiety in children. Dr Shyam Kumar emphasised the need for educational institutions to integrate stress management in the curriculum as stress poisons our body and 75% of diseases are emotionally induced illnesses (EII). The pandemic also taught how a collaborative effort of school leadership, teachers, parents, students, education bodies, and the government departments helped in utilising existing resources or augmenting them to make learning happen.  As Prof Ramakanta Mohalik had observed, we can close anything but education is something that cannot be closed.

Recommendations:

#Hybrid or blended learning should continue in schools
#Schools should invest in technology up-gradation
# Stress management should be given importance in the curriculum
#Use of theatrics and dramatic elements in teaching enhance online learning
#Free online resources provided by NCERT should be utilised
#Students should be taken on field trips for case studies

YOUTUBE LINK: Report Card of Education in Post Covid Times - 67th Rajagiri Round Table Conference International - YouTube






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