Are we ready for School from Home?
I am writing this article to express the pain of various sections of society who didn’t get the chance to speak it out loud in the country. I always believe that asking the right questions is the key to address any challenge. Thus, I will be shooting questions throughout this read, please bear with me.
Let me start with a story. Four months back, I observed my two little cousins studying in a primary school were very happy during the lockdown than usual. Yes, it’s because they don’t need to go to school, their exams cancelled, promoted without writing their final exams, playing at home, etc. This seems funny but leads to the very important fundamental question and also I categorize it as problem 1 — “Why are they so happy about not attending school? ”
In our school times, even we would’ve also felt the same as these kids because the root cause of problem 1 is itself the “flawed system” in words of superstar, an actor-turning politician. In reality, the system is getting intensified with emerging groups based on occupation and poor public policies by governments. (Check out my last article -“The Modern caste system” where I briefly discussed this topic). Again, to solve this we needed a longer-term vision with a roadmap to implement effective solutions. You may think that recently released NEP 2020 can address the problem.
Yes, I see it as a good vision but not sure about its effect on all sections of society. I really hope NEP 2020 shouldn’t be the next demonetisation or GST implementation. I strongly feel that we have other critical issues which need to be solved before debating on this. Thus I will discuss NEP 2020 and it’s the effect on society in-depth in my upcoming article.
Let’s come back to the story. During this COVID crisis, these little kids were forced to take up their online classes. It’s also evident that their happiness index depreciates over days. I was trying to interpret its correlation with online classes and subtly discussed with these kids as well. Surprisingly, multiple reasons are thrown at me. This gives an understanding of problem 2 — “Why are they so worried about not attending school? ”
The real locus of all those reasons for problem 2 is “School from Home”.I would like to discuss problem 2 in-detailed in this article, to which we need to act immediately.
From my conversation with teachers, parents and students, I can broadly classify their pain points into:
- User Design: The videos-conferencing companies like Zoom or Google-meet never would’ve thought that their users could be these kids. Since the user design isn’t built for these kids, online classes are becoming difficult for them.
- Frequency and Communication: Meeting invites aren’t communicated properly by the school management, Often, students and parents get confused with the multiple links and also end up missing classes. Moreover, few parents aren’t aware of how these online classes work as well.
- Focus Leakage: Most of the students attending their classes on mute and watching TV in-class hours. This questions the ultimate existence of these classes and indicates the lack of interaction during the classes. This, in turn, impacting the concentration quotient of the students.
- Lack of Training: Teachers finding difficult in teaching online and this leads to the quality of online teaching is quite lower compared to their offline teaching in school.
- Increase in Peer Pressure: Initially, I cited that the happiness index is decreasing since online classes started, to explain it through an instance. Recently, I met Headmistress of a private school, she says that their School management created WhatsApp groups for each grade with the parents and respective subject teachers managing the group. If a teacher appreciates a student in that group for his/her work, which is creating enormous pressure on other students, as because it reaches directly to parents. Thus, one appreciation of a student is equivalent to multiple parents-teachers meeting for other children.
All of these issues reflect school management’s disorganised process, miscommunication and ineffective usage of technology. From my conversation, I understood that these little kids wish to go back to school so that they can meet their peers, teachers and will get involved in activities like sports, arts and clubs. This peer group exposure is pivotal in any individual’s learning and growth which is currently missing in online classes. It also reaffirmed my belief that we can learn more from the community than from the textbooks.
In contrast, another segment of students goes through this phenomenon of schooling from home differently. According to the DISE [District Information System for Education] report, 60- 65% of students are studying in government schools, if we exclude central government-run Kendra Vidyalaya, Army Schools,etc., then we have approximately around 50% of students studying in the government schools alone. So what’s happening with the government school students?
- Lack of clarity
They neither attend online classes nor going to school. These students aren’t sure of their academic future in this pandemic. Majority of the private schools started online classes and also declared that they won’t be reopening anytime soon this year, but here these kids are at their homes stuck with uncertainty.
Then how can we let these innocent school students wait till the pandemic is over? Is it fair to keep common exams for all students despite this disparity?
2. Ineffective or Zero government measures
Most of the students in rural areas don’t have internet connectivity like the above-mentioned villages in Coonoor. I agree some state governments took initiatives to reach them. But is it effectively implemented?. For instance, the Maharashtra government approached the rural students through TV and radio for 2 hours a day. Do you think it will have any impact on their learning process?
To identify this, we’ll do some basic maths to understand it.
In spite of considering all 24 hours in our analysis, it raises lots of questions on its impact. Does the government expect students to study at their telecasting time even if it’s midnight? Does 24 mins enough for a day for one subject to cover the required syllabus for the exam? Do all the students have the same level of learning pace? Do we have time slots for UG/PG courses in the broadcasting channel?
Moreover, this is a one-way communication, students never get the opportunity to raise questions whenever they wish to. I see them as ineffective solutions implemented to just cover up saying they tried to address something on the issue.
3. Lack of infrastructure
Majority of these students belong to low economic and low social status families, their parents are the daily- wage workers, street-side shop workers, vegetable vendors, Housemaid, labourers, and so on. Their earnings already aren’t enough for their basic living in this pandemic.
Last week, I was talking to a worker in a small restaurant in Vellore. he said that he works from morning 9 AM to 11 PM to earn Rs.300 per day by travelling 35km.he also said that it’s hard for him to manage family expenses. Apart from this, these online classes require infrastructures like laptops and smartphones, data plans for their children to take up the classes. Do you think these workers can afford it in this pandemic?
There is a high probability that if it’s not being addressed by the government, we will have a surge in dropouts rate among the government school students. They will be forced to go to daily wage jobs like their parents for survival. This pandemic has also given an opportunity for us to think on implementing Right to Online Education.
4. Fundamental policies at stake
The former chief minister of Tamilnadu Mr.K.Kamaraj introduced mid-day meal schemes in 1962. After 20 years, then Chief minister Dr.MGR upgraded the scheme into a Nutritious Noon Meal programme, later then it was followed by Narasimha Rao led central government to launch MDM across India in 1995. This scheme in Tamilnadu is a huge success and results in 80.33% literacy rate.
You might wonder why am I talking about this.
Mid-day meal scheme was implemented so that the poor people who do not have enough money to feed their children would send them to school for the sake of having food and more and more children would be educated.
We took 58 years to achieve this literacy rate. To describe the intensity of the issue, we still have a lot of families dependent on this scheme across India, as because of this COVID, these families are struggling and many kids are starving for a meal every day. I personally met a few families in a village nearby. These families neither have the infrastructure nor have facilities to pursue education. Those children starve mentally and physically every day in fighting for their lives. What are those government departments trying to remove this imbalance?
5. Unfair economic transactions
Since June, the majority of private schools started their online admissions and e-learning classes. Middle class and lower-middle-class families are already struggling to pay their children school fees. Private schools with basic facilities charge on average Rs.65000 for a child studying 4th grade in Tier-3 city. Parents are worried that private schools are becoming luxury and also the government schools aren’t providing better infrastructure. Thus, they either need to save money with a constrained budget or lend money from their relatives and friends.
Currently, schools have negligible operational costs like electricity charges, Classroom maintenance, playground maintenance, etc. Thus the total expenses for management will be much lesser than the usual. Then why schools ask for regular tuition fees from the students despite the operational costs?
I would like to appreciate the Meghalaya government which had identified this issue early and ordered schools to collect 50% of the regular fees. Why don’t the central/other state governments regulate the school fees?
Moreover, I agree that this is an unfortunate situation, we may not be ready. but why not to learn from it instead of blaming the situation. We need to ensure the quality of education provided to all segments of society is standardised.
Implementing school from home without addressing key problems is analogous to going to war without weapons.
So, Let me finish this with my final and very important question.
Are we ready for school from home?