Covid-19 and the Shift to Digital Learning: Teachers Face Unprecedented Crisis
The teaching job that was limited to an 8-2 shift, has become almost a 24-7 affair.
Almost four months after the nationwide lockdown announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, all sectors of the Indian economy are struggling to get back up on their feet. With the threat of the pandemic still looming large over everyone’s head, many jobs are shifting to the digital world.
Schools are no exception in this adjustment to the “new normal”. Today, as the possibility of onsite classes seems meek, school teachers are trying every possible way to make schools go digital.
The teaching job that was once limited to an 8-2 shift, has become almost a twenty-four-seven affair. Taking online classes, preparing and evaluating assignments, tackling students’ technical and personal queries, the teaching world is going under a transition.
However, this transition has not been easy for most. Teachers, especially in private schools, are facing hardship as the demands from the management and the parents are increasing. From arranging whiteboards and smartphones in the middle of lockdown to ensuring that they and their background look presentable enough, teachers are adjusting in ways they never had to before.
Kawalpreet, a primary school teacher in West Delhi, while talking to The Citizen recounts the constant pressure that she and her colleagues are facing. Currently, her classes are taken through the medium of Whatsapp where she makes video lectures and shares them within her class online group.
Now, as the management wants to move one step ahead and introduce Microsoft Teams, a popular software used for teaching, they have been asking the teachers to invest in good audio/visual equipment, without providing any monetary support for the same. She recollects a meeting where her principal was wearing newly bought Airpods and was asking all the teachers to buy or arrange a good quality audio system, like hers. She asks, “She can afford those, how can everyone?”
Buying the right equipment is only one part of the problem. Next comes, the problem of knowing how to use these. Divya, a teacher at Sarvodaya Vidyalaya in New Delhi, remembers the time in the month of April when she felt completely handicapped in the digital world. However, after repeated pressure, even in government schools, she sought the help of her son and learnt to operate the Zoom app. However, many teachers, she says, are still not tech-friendly.
“Those hailing the online classes as the next revolution in the education system, do not understand that there is no revolution happening on the ground,” Divya says. “The children are in the same position as before, whereas teachers are only being harassed and exploited. Only a few (teachers) are going out of the way, and the private sector is being forced to do it, otherwise, they won’t be paid.”
Learning to use this software still did not fully prepare them for what was out there. While using Zoom, Komal, a 10th-grade school teacher in Dwarka, was left baffled when suddenly some unidentified id’s entered the chatroom and started using abusive words in the chatbox, sometimes even taking a girl’s name and making jokes. Now, after a few weeks, she is using another software that allows her to keep a track on who is joining her class and feels rather comfortable.
As women employed in the education sector, the problems for women teachers are double-fold. Komal, who also has a daughter in Class 2, whom she has to teach separately in the evening, as she cannot be free when her classes are happening. Add to this are the daily chores, that are most often her responsibility
“No matter how helping my husband is, he won’t get in the kitchen and cook for the kids. Sometimes, I have my laptop in the kitchen and am trying to juggle both the worlds,” she says.
Instead of being appreciated, let alone awarded, for their efforts, teachers are being sacked left, right and centre. In Kawalpreet’s school alone, more than 10 non-permanent teachers have already been sacked and the management has warned that in case onsite schools don’t start soon, more layoffs can be expected. Since teachers wouldn’t be able to find other jobs in the present scenario and are still hoping that onsite schools will start soon, five of those ten teachers are willing to work even without pay.
The management is calling this sacking as sending teachers “on a break” where the non-permanent teachers are being asked to wait till the onsite schools start. Mrs Alka Kher, Principal of St. Marks Public School explains that ever since the lockdown, there has been a crunch of funds as there is a huge non-payment of fees, which is why they are being forced to take these measures.
The entire school system is trying to reinvent itself even when all odds might be against them. Seema is an IT teacher in Government Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya, Central Delhi who is currently taking online classes through Zoom because the current Delhi government links for all schools does not include her subject. She will be teaching her technical subject through the PDF’s and video lessons, but would not be able to take practical classes.
“30 per cent of students in my class are not able to join the session. The network is a major issue, so is the availability of smartphones or laptops. Even if they have these things, recharging the phone so often is not possible for our kids,” she says.
This situation is not unique to government schools alone. Rekha, a grade two teacher in a reputed school of Delhi, has two such cases in her own class of 30. One of the students has gone to his home state, where he is living with his grandmother who doesn’t know how to operate these devices. The second student’s father has come out straight saying that he won’t be able to pay the dues this time.
In the absence of proper equipment by the teachers and students, one set is not able to teach, and the other is not able to learn. Yet, the pressure to make schools and colleges go online is still rampant, making one wonder out loud, all this after all, for whom?
(All names changed)
Kivleen Sahni is an aspiring journalist who has a keen interest in covering gender and minority issues.
Cover Photo: Representational Image:: Arun Sankar/AFP