• Atalbihari Baddar

E-Schooling, a new normal for education in the midst of the present COVID19 pandemic

Updated: Oct 26, 2020

After COVID19 outbreak several countries across globe declared long term total lockdowns including closure of industries, businesses, educational institutions and domestic and international travel. In India, Government of India declared a nationwide lockdown from March 2020, which resulted in closure of more than 15 lakh educational institutions and about 25 crore of school students were not able to go to their schools.

The fun filled life as we know just changed in few days. Due to closure of Schools overnight, students were freed from schools but remained confined to their homes, and parents who were too forced to work from home had to struggle with keeping children productive at home.

During trauma of lockdown, while maintaining high level hygiene, using hand and surface sanitizers and tracking the spread of the virus via loud increasing counters on news channels, no one realized the sudden stress on that often neglected group, our Teachers.

Looking at long repeated lockdowns, a thought of saving academic year of the students pushed schooling system to move online, literally without formally trained staff. The teaching staff across streams, across age groups, took it as an opportunity, fought as a battle to win.

IMAGE: Siddhant, A CBSE student attending online class from his home in Chennai.

This situation brought in the concept of online teaching in reality at a grass root level. All of a sudden, online teaching was no longer a catchphrase or a fancy edutech marketing term. Everyone had to take a plunge in to it while many were not ready, aware and equipped.

The search engines punched in with numerous search phrases like “top 10 online teaching tools”, “how to teach online”, “ways to present online”, “best online teaching platforms”, “free group video conferencing platforms”, “online teaching tools”, and “online teaching techniques”. An unknown app like Zoom became a connecting people platform overnight before other stunned big tech players realized the potential and tried making their parallel free versions of apps in video conferencing segment available in the wave.

The buzz words across Indian families of teachers and students were Zoom, Google Meet, WebEx, Google Classroom, Microsoft PPT, PDF, Slides, PDF Converter, Gmail, Online Assignment Submission, Online exam using Google forms, File Sharing, Google Drive, Sessions, Connections, Fiber connections, 50/100+MBPS speed, WiFi, Hotspots etc to name a few.

Education field, adjusting with the new normal

Teachers who are frightened by technology till date have to take on the fear and move forward with confidence. For many who are expert at lesson planning and teaching within the traditional classroom environment, planning for an online classroom does require rethinking the techniques and planning.

In the changing approach, finding appropriate online platform becomes a primary step followed by a learning curve to use the multiple features appropriately. And as all know, using a new technology platform and its features for efficient teaching and ensuring that all students understand the concepts is important.

IMAGE: Ms Kavita, a CBSE teacher from Chennai taking online class from her home.

Apart from that, online classrooms have highlighted issues of classroom management. If it was challenging to keep their classrooms in order earlier, that was less troubling compared to the issues of online classrooms, especially when the teacher has no control on whether student is being attentive, present on the other end. Many worries like who else are watching the live teaching apart from students, misuse of classroom links, students chatting with each other on social apps is common. How a teacher can maintain discipline, ensure students don’t interrupt presentation and effectively the classes are the open questions.

These and such questions are hounding not only to teachers of higher grades, but teachers of the pre-primary and primary grades are concerned as well. Finding the ways to keep the young students attentive, defining right time limit for classes, considering effect of excess screen time on youngsters are few of many things being considered by the teachers.

For school management including principals, department heads and coordinators, training teachers to become proficient in online teaching is a mammoth task. Another important point is to assure that teachers are having the device and uninterrupted high speed Internet connectivity considering the long group video calls. In this case, many schools have relied on the hardware and internet connectivity arranged by teachers themselves at home without any support as sudden lockdowns limited overall machinery to get in to action and provide right infrastructure.

Educational institutes helping teachers shift to online classrooms in terms of providing right infrastructure is not being initiated by many schools even post unlocking phases.

From the schools across cities, few opted for a paid video conferencing platform; many opted for a popular free platform, few changed couple of free platforms to settle for one. Most of them opted for free platforms with whatever limitations avoiding any investment in technology. Rightly so, considering the uncertainty related to reopening schools, why schools should go ahead and invest in yearly subscription packages meant for corporates!

Many questions related to the online space are puzzling the stakeholders. These puzzles are ranging from finding the right online teaching technique to finding ways to keep students engaged. Opening many questions while finding right platform to use, free like Zoom or paid like WebEx?, If Zoom, what about privacy issues, Should go with Google Classrooms as it has a inbuilt LMS module? Should go for Microsoft Teams as Microsoft is known as a trustworthy company for years? Not all questions are finding logical answers.

While using free platforms, a common issue schools and teachers are facing is to keep uninvited students out of their online classrooms. As entire digital space is new, such issues are just a beginning. If the lockdowns extend for entire academic year, the school management has to look in to planning, conducting online assessments and evaluating students online. This will set a new normal in education field.

School promptness for online schooling is critical and in reality, schools are at different levels in this journey. While parents are arranging for devices and internet connectivity at home, school management and teachers are working on larger and important school management issues.

As per an interesting social media post, earlier parents used to send children to school and relax, now the children are at home and teachers are visiting home. Whether we like it or not doesn’t matter anymore, what matters is accepting and adjusting with this new normal and move ahead.

By, Atalbihari Baddar

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