Updated: Jun 17, 2020
By Beatrice Chopra
In the past three months, various articles have explicated the plight of being a student and the burden of attending online classes in the wake of the pandemic. The issues highlighted are indispensable and require critical engagement. However, we often forget that changes in the larger social milieu directly affect both the students and teachers at the instructional level. Teachers across the country have been mandated to contrive ‘innovative’ ways of transacting the curriculum in a virtual manner. The phenomenon of conducting online classes is new and challenging even for our educators.
It is a common assumption that teachers are equipped with the means and resources to conduct online classes beforehand. If the above assumption fails, the onus falls on the teacher to be able to procure a laptop/computer, a stable internet connection, a suitable environment and above all the expertise to conduct classes smoothly. The intervention of some schools may be limited to advising teachers to make use of the resources in the school premises, placing the health and safety of the teacher in a compromising position. The challenges of a teacher go beyond the availability and access of resources. They are no longer inside the concrete walls of a school where they had been acclimatized for years owing to the system because the pandemic has compelled them to tread upon unknown waters. In this piece, I reflect on the challenges faced by school teachers, as I live with one, and have closely supported her and witnessed her struggles!
The new challenges faced by teachers pertain to the basics of transacting the curriculum and capturing the attention of the students. It is a race against completing the syllabus and also ensuring that students ‘understand’ everything within the limited time frame. The continuous surveillance of the administration as well as the parents may mar the confidence of the teachers and make them conscious. As individuals, we have different capacities; some teachers may be excellent inside the classroom but may falter in front of a computer screen. Consequently, the teachers become more concerned about job security and lose out on the quality of their teaching. Teachers are required to juggle multiple tasks such as teaching, taking attendance, resolving technical glitches, maintaining the decorum of the class, monitoring each child on different screens, responding to different queries etc. All this while teachers are also held responsible to reach out to the children in myriad ways by setting aside their worries and putting on a facade of ‘normalcy’.
The teachers are also compelled to compromise in providing a platform for students to share because of the paucity of time. Normally, teachers are instructed to mute the children and disable the option for children to voluntarily un-mute themselves. The explanation behind this is to allow teachers to ‘smoothly’ finish the lesson planned for the day without being interrupted however, the essence of teaching as a dialogical process becomes obsolete. This practice normalizes the hierarchical structure within classrooms where the teacher pours knowledge into the 'empty' minds of the students.
Besides, from sending assignments, teaching classes, attending webinars to upgrading technological skills, learning and practicing computer skills, checking submissions, returning feedback and reaching out to children, the teacher is glued to the screen. In the realm of online teaching, teachers have unregulated working hours. On many occasions, students are smarter in handling technology and they outsmart the teachers. For example, I witnessed my mother’s students annotate the screen and disrupt power point presentations. These acts make the teacher nervous and disrupt the flow of teaching because she gets distracted trying to figure out ways to fix it.
The notion of conducting assessments is flawed because unlike the ‘normal’ classes, the teacher cannot efficiently take note of the individual learning levels of the students. Hence, the assessment papers may not be inclusive in nature and fail to cater to the diverse learning needs of the children. Another issue is the validity of assessments because on many occasions, parents are seated with the children and they prompt the children throughout the exam. This defeats the purpose of conducting assessments because the teacher will not be able to determine the individual caliber of the students and guide them accordingly. The teachers may also lose out on introspecting and determining the effectiveness in their teaching methods.
Keeping in mind the present circumstances, the phenomenon of conducting online classes may prevail for longer than anticipated. As a society, we need to come together and think of ways to support the major stakeholders in the field of education especially students and teachers. Let us learn to be patient with our teachers because they are also going through a process of refining their skills. They are constantly learning and adapting to new methods of teaching and at the same time, unlearning conventional methods. Learning outcomes may depend on individuals at the instructional level but it requires support from the institutional and policy levels as well. In this way, I simply hope that the pandemic may act as a beginning to bridge gaps between the instructional, institutional and policy levels and slowly transform our education system for the better.
*Beatrice Chopra is a final year student of MA in Education (Early Childhood Care and Education), School of Education Studies, Ambedkar University Delhi.