Hello, everybody; this is Usha. I’m a teacher, and I chose to be a teacher because I love children. I’ve been around many parts of Tamil Nadu, handling children of all age groups. But I particularly love children in the nursery level, the smallest level where it all begins. And so now I am in charge of the nursery section in the school where I studied. I’m very happy and proud to go back to the school which has made me what I am today.
Like every year, 2019 went by, and 2020 rang in. Like every year, we welcomed the new year with a lot of hope, excitement, and happiness. Little did we realize that things were going to change. Like every year, we started our planning with earnestness. We usually plan in the month of January, and so we started planning just like every other year. But our plans remained on paper.
Come March, and the threat of Corona loomed large. Schools, offices, and everything else shut. Things came to a standstill. At that point, all of us felt that this was just a matter of a few months. Of course, an unexpected holiday is always welcome, and we enjoyed this unexpected break that we got. Slowly the reality sunk in. The break was getting too long! This was not a holiday due to a sudden flood or rain. Corona was dangerous, and it was here to stay!
In the month of June, we heard that some schools had already decided that they would have some virtual classrooms. We got thinking. How can we continue the learning in our children? How do we ensure that our children don’t miss out on their learning? Lots of discussions, meetings, conference calls went around. What was the best way to reach our children? There were children from different economic strata. We had to keep that in our mind. We also heard that some of the parents had gone back to their hometown because they had no jobs here. They had lost their source of livelihood. SO what do we do?
That was when we decided that we’d start making video clippings of activities and other learning sessions and send it to the parents so that they could play it for their children whenever they had time. Then they could record the student responses for the work we had given and send it back to us.
This way, the videos can be replayed over and over again, and it was not like a one-time session. Parents could play it at their will. And in any case, virtual classrooms needed the support of parents for their small children. SO we started taking these video clippings. Teachers began sitting in front of cameras, takes, retakes, editing…it was almost like we were shooting for a movie. Many of the teachers were very conscious, scared, confused. Teachers were under the constant scrutiny of the parents. It was really very scary.
Everyday I used to get calls from teachers. “Ma’am, it’s difficult to edit. Please don’t change anything. Leave it as it is. Many of us felt that we were working 24×7. The stress of staying indoors was also getting on to us. The days stretched. And then when we decided that we needed to bring in some changes. Everything was a little monotonous. So we decided to have virtual celebrations. We celebrated Dussehra and Diwali in our own little way virtually. And then we saw that this was a good idea. We were getting good, positive responses from our parents. SO we decided to increase the frequency of these live sessions and send videos once in a while.
And so now, we are continuing with virtual classrooms. If you listen to me now, you would think that things are going smoothly now. Oh no, not at all! We have our own challenges. We still are not able to reach out to all children. Some of our parents don’t have smartphones. Or some have only one phone, which the older sibling was using for her classes.
Another very, very serious challenge we faced was financial constraint. School maintenance, paying salary to the staff all needed money. But there was no money coming in. The govt with all good intentions, had told the parents they needed to pay only 75% of the fee. But even that money was not coming in. Parents were asked to pay the fee in installments. They were not forced to pay the fee at one go. Still, money was not coming in. Some parents felt that since the children were not coming to school every day, there was no physical classrooms, there was no interactions with the teachers. So, why pay money at all? It was just online sessions, so they didn’t pay the fee. Some of them didn’t have the money to pay the fee. All this resulted in teachers getting a cut in their salaries, other staff getting a cut in their salaries. All this was a serious problem. Despite this, many teachers tried to help their students, find donors to help pay the tuition fee. Every time only these questions came to our mind-when will this all end? What’s going to happen? Will there be normalcy soon?
Added to this, there was the other important challenge of not being able to assess the student properly. In the higher classes, when they had Google Classrooms, they had quizzes, paper/pen tests, and MCQs to assess the learning in children. But we in KG couldn’t do that. We did not know how to assess their learning curve. Besides there were a few children who never attend classes, and a few children whom we didn’t have nay clue or know where they were. Like they say, tough times don’t last, tough people, do. We have tried to be tough during tough times. We’ve tried to learn new things, tried to make learning interesting, but frankly, we’re all waiting for our children to walk into our classrooms.