The Covid-19 pandemic has pushed the world to reinvent ways of coping with the ‘new normal’, as the coronavirus has disturbed every sphere of human life. The world was caught unawares when the pandemic erupted and governments across the world imposed a strict lockdown. Needless to say, the lockdown has taken a heavy toll, especially on education. The closure of educational institutions carries high social and economic costs for people across communities. The impact however is particularly severe for the most vulnerable and marginalised boys and girls and their families as the underprivileged learners tend to have limited educational opportunities beyond the school.
The unprecedented lockdown and the subsequent closure of schools has not only resulted in irreparable academic damage but also created many other problems for children and their teachers. The disconnect between the students among themselves and with their teachers has resulted in social isolation. Schools are hub of social activity and interaction. When schools close, many children and youth miss out on social contact that is essential to learning and development. During the lockdown, the whole process of teaching and learning was rebooted and we witnessed virtual classes and the process of e-learning being implemented but the ‘classroom’ with all its limitations remains a location of great possibility. We did switch from classroom to Zoom, from blackboard to camera, but the advantages of face-to-face interaction can never be denied. During the last few weeks the lockdown restrictions have been eased and schools have been partially re opened, but the students and their parents are reluctant to go back due to concerns about infection. An overwhelming number of parents are raising the concern that educational institutions may become breeding grounds for the spread of the coronavirus.
Kashmir valley has been limping towards normalcy and students have been asked to come sit for the annual Board examinations, but the challenges of re-opening primary and middle schools still remains there for the authorities. The coaching centres have also started advertising admissions and this will also pose a challenge for the authorities to ensure precautions and Covid SOPs in these centres. The SOPs will also pose a challenge to the school authorities and the teachers as the social distancing norms have to be ensured within the educational institutions. The fist-bump, the high-five, the warm handshakes and hugs will remain suspended for a long time. The personal greetings, the intimacy, the bonhomie have all been subtracted for the time being. The class will go from social to asocial. Friendships, social networking, campus bonding and huddles will be on hold for a while. Invisible walls will come up diluting in many ways the fun and euphoria of campus life. In the event of a deteriorating Covid situation, there may arise a need of schools being held in shifts, which will put infinite pressure on the teaching and administrative staff.
The board of school education and the department of education deserve appreciation for the successful conduct of the annual examinations with SOPs being followed. It is, however, the teachers who deserve the most appreciation. Besides teaching online, they also had to support students to complete assessments and tests. They stayed in constant touch with parents about their wards’ progress through WhatsApp groups and virtual parent-teacher meetings. This blurring of professional and personal boundaries took a toll but they got the opportunity to gain more knowledge and skills. The new skills, pedagogy, and the tools of digital learning have not only created enormous potential for the students but also vast opportunities for the teachers to revamp the methodology and upgrade their skills. The government and the administration also need to revisit the curriculum and train the teachers for virtual teaching and learning. The online teaching and the virtual classroom is a reality now and the stakeholders need to get equipped to meet the growing demands and new challenges. Smart classrooms, new gadgets and digital platforms are the new normal and are going to play a great role in the times to come. Till now our fundamental thrust in school education had been to transfer a basic book-oriented stored and archived knowledge bank to students through set curriculum with help of teachers in a conventional classroom set-up, but now governments and the administrators are certainly going to pay emphasis on technological innovations with more concentration of resources than ever before.
Another major breakthrough that has already started settling in and is very prominently being noticed is the changing concept of co-education. Interestingly, co-education will be defined as an educational system where both teachers and students learn together. An overwhelming number of teachers not being tech-savvy and technology friendly are learning how to teach all over again – this time not in their customary classrooms but from their online classrooms. The post-Covid era is going to transform the whole pattern of schooling and the process of teaching-learning. The change in the pattern of learning, schooling, teaching and the examination is in for a new set of norms.
The trying times of Covid have no doubt given birth to a New Normal concept of schooling whereby reaching out to schools for regular studies will probably be essential but not easily manageable. Today’s teachers and students are thus going to be the change-makers for the upcoming generations.
—The writer is a columnist and counsellor. [email protected]