An Education Emergency

This prolonged school closure, critical to stymy the spread of the pandemic, is having an adverse effect on our most vulnerable students.

The recent crisis of global COVID-19 is a clarion call of preparedness for all the educators. The most vulnerable schools and communities in the country have realised how low our reliance to shock is. For too long, we’ve ignored the potential of the relationship between technology, teacher and student.

While an invisible virus continues to rage over the world, millions of students from under-served communities are not learning. This prolonged school closure, critical to stymy the spread of the pandemic, is having an adverse effect on our most vulnerable students. Not only is a steady stream of learning on hold for an indefinite period, but they are also being kept away from what often serves as a haven for a lot of them.  

Many of our children come from homes with adults who belong to India’s vast population of informal sector workers. For them, the struggle to earn a livelihood necessitates that they leave their children unsupervised for long periods of time in the day. For them, the best investment in their child’s safety and well-being is the routine of sending them to school. And for their children, 6-8 hours with a definite structure, guaranteed meals and an opportunity to expand their potential.  

With mid-day meals stayed, final exams cancelled and postponed, a new academic session presumably delayed, a large percentage of our poorest students are home without adequate connectivity. Most share a smartphone with other members of their families and primary grade students don’t even have the resources they were afforded, while at school. For the first time in a really long time, teachers and educators have ascertained a newfound appreciation for digital inclusion. Despite a precipitous fall in learning time, we’re seeing innovation and creativity peek, amongst students and educators. Through this partnership, we are being able to inform and inspire students to self and peer learn and find innovative ways to spend some hours of their day engaged purposefully. 

Across the country, and the world, teachers are now creating homegrown, virtual classrooms for their classrooms. These online spaces allow students to learn and sections a students’ day into actionable parts that allow for studying, extracurriculars and play. These manifest as WhatsApp groups or Webinars on Google Hangouts, Zoom or Skype. At the beginning of the day, they share homework and worksheets on these groups, giving students a stipulated time to complete their work. They also delineate time for when students should shift their focus to a hobby or activity of their choice, such as painting, singing, dancing, and spreading authentic information to their families and communities. Teachers are also demonstrating and encouraging students to lend a hand to household chores and share examples of gratitude and positive news in these uncertain times. They then spend the remainder of the day engaged in regular follow-ups with their students, through phone calls and messages, to maintain a sense of accountability. 

To increase one to one interaction, teachers are creating video capsules of themselves teaching the lesson and sharing it with their class and inviting questions through voice notes. Some are also hosting video and teleconference sessions for those students who are able to participate in them. There are even teachers who are buying SIM cards and recharging internet connections to enable some students to continue learning, teachers who’re in constant touch with parents, guardians and family members assuring them and teachers who are learning quickly and adapting to this new reality.  

In other ingenious solutions, a teacher decided to activate a chain of peer support and learning in her classroom by teaching a particular topic to a small group of high performing students on a voice call. She allowed them time to work on the topic and bring their questions to the table. As their clarity and mastery over the topic expanded, she assigned them buddies- with whom they’d share their knowledge- cultivating a culture of growth and sharing.  

Beyond virtual teaching methodologies, teachers are also curating a vast amount of resources that are now available online for children to explore. These include curated e-books, reading material, TED Talks, workbooks, educational videos, digital libraries, PDF textbooks, virtual tours of museums and galleries, art activities which don’t require too many resources and even online games! Brands and organisations all around the world have added to this by making their content free and subsidized.  

The country is aware of how governments, corporates and civil society are going to redirect a large amount of philanthropy to healthcare, which they rightly must begin reprioritising. But let’s keep considering how access to excellent education can bridge the inequity gap for our country. Let’s ensure mental health for our educators and students remain our main focus as we navigate these trying times. Let’s ensure television and radio producers reimagine how content can be used to facilitate and encourage learning. Let’s emerge from this emergency with a renewed focus on investing in technology for each student, while empowering our teachers with the skills and mindsets required to digitize learning interventions for students. Let’s definitely involve students in co-creating solutions for online learning.  

And as we distance ourselves socially, make adjustments to our academic calendars, and continue distance learning, let’s remember to deeply connect with all the children around us. Let’s remember to be caring adults, who remain calm, factual and honest, and who listen to the evidence and learn. Let the gap of inequity be bridged with better connectivity, and a resounding resolve that learning and transference of knowledge can continue for all our students irrespective of their zip-code. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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