The COVID-19 pandemic has caught us all unawares in all walks of life. Some of the aftermaths of the pandemic are acute, some are being estimated to have long-lasting effects, and some will never be compensated at all. One sector that bears the brunt of all these three effects is education; it is being estimated that “approximately 1.077 billion learners are currently affected due to school closures“. To mitigate the adverse impacts on economy, the government has initiated phaseout of lockdown to enable gradual flow of economic activities. However, reopening of educational institutions seems unviable at the moment.
In education sector, the most affected institutions due to current pandemic are the private schools located in the rural areas that could not engage in any sort of online classes due to poor internet connectivity, parents’ inability to purchase smart phones, laptop or any other gadgets that support digital learning for their children. Besides, teachers’ lack of nuts and bolts of technology – knowhow of online mode of taking class, and sadly, the lackadaisicalness of school authority to pursue online mode of learning also add to the woes of students.
Private schools are deemed the most affected because of the fact that it’s not only the students who are affected but also the teachers who are in a typical Catch 22 situation – leave the institution as they are not paid or stick around until situation alleviates, and that too without pay! In government schools, the only unfortunate lots are the students; teachers are being paid whether they engage in online classes or not. Now, the fallout of placing private institutions in the doldrums of academic inactivity is potential jeopardy of reclaiming their past credibility. If the pressing situations related to the pandemic are botched, futures of many private schools look unpropitious.
In an apparent effort to palliate adverse outcomes, some private schools in Ukhrul had consultative meetings with parents and, of course with parents’ assent, decided to collect fees for the current session. Some schools have asked parents to “pay 50% fees in installments for the lockdown months to ensure smooth continuation of learning activities till the end of the session.” Similarly, many other institutions have followed suit. Some parents willingly approved the move, some raised their eyebrows, while the rest resented.
Eliciting payment of tuition fees for the “lockdown months” could have rung the right note had the private schools been engaging in live online classes since the lockdown 0.1. The argument that live online class either on Google Meet or Zoom or such other apps is not viable in remote places like Ukhrul or Tamenglong sounds plausible. On other hand, it is untenable, too, if these institutions are being berated for imposing fee payment sans any transaction of learning activities. The question is: have all educational institutions, private or government, been giving their best with utmost sincerity to keep the candle of education burning?
In India, government institutions which are actively pursuing live online classes are Kendriya Vidyalayas, Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas and some of Ekalavya Model Residential Schools, along with the state-run schools such as Delhi government schools. The mode of transacting lessons and methods of assessments being adopted by some of elite private schools in Delhi and other metro-cities are worth-emulating. We could see silver lining even if, at all, the COVID-19 pandemic refuses to leave us alone for another couple of years to come.
The crux is that online class in NOT at all impossible for institutions and teachers who really care for the future of students provided they are willing to burn the midnight oil and leave no stones unturned. Now that 4G mobile network is available in almost every part of the country, online class, in whichever mode schools or teachers prefer, is a Hobson’s choice. Google Meet, Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram… (the list goes on) should be exploited intensively to our advantage. WhatsApp is quite user-friendly for sending or uploading study materials in different formats such as PPTs, PDFs, JPEGs, posters, self-made videos, YouTube links and sites related to the lesson. The search machine, Google is an unprecedented boon; use it. Google Forms is an effective app for MCQ testing and collecting attendance.
Invite techie experts for acclimatization of educational apps for teachers, students and parents (guardians), explore ways and means to install broad band internet facility in schools, organize orientation webinars for ethical use of internet, sensitize parents and students about the benefits and possibility of online classes, tap all the resources to further the knowledge and expertise of technology amongst teachers, give orientation on how to use mobiles and laptops (computers) for educational purposes . . . . Our students’ craze for PUBG is indicative of their dexterity of manipulating mobile and apps; tap it. Let’s continue to learn how to learn.
What if COVID-19 inoculation does not arrive soon or such other pandemic crops up? Obviously, this pandemic seems quite obdurate! Succumbing to its do’s and don’ts and remaining complacent or apathetic to academic issues will be too compromising. Our future is at stake. Something needs to be done. And that “something” happens if our fingers are ready to hit the buttons of mobiles or laptops. It’s just one click away. Be careful, PUBG (now banned in India) is one click way, too!
“The future of the world is in my classroom today.” – Ivan Welton Fitzwater
Readers can reach the Associate Editor, Ningchihan K. Hungyo or mail to firstname.lastname@example.org