“Teachers are expected to reach unattainable goals with inadequate tools. The miracle is that at times the Teachers are expected to reach unattainable goals with inadequate tools,and it has been so.“Haim Ginott
Life under lockdown poses a set of unfamiliar challenges for everyone.No one is immune as we struggle to adapt to this new existence , but teachers in particular are facing extraordinary pressures. The shutting of the schools in haste allowed little time for extensive planning of either distance learning or on site care of vulnerable children and those of key workers. Teachers with varying degrees of technical expertise were thrust into the world of the virtual classroom. Suddenly out of the blue a profession fundamentally social and calls for human interaction had to make major adjustments.
Perhaps to the casual observer, the new routine of online classroom teacher looks like one of comparative ease, working from home on full pay, with some online lessons to set, minimal marking and no classroom disruption to worry about. How could this not be a release from the stress and overload so often cited as the things driving teachers from the profession? However trust me this is no extended holiday, but rather a time of uncertainty, anxiety and a burning sense of responsibility.
More than half the teachers are working longer than their average 60 hours week and most are still regularly attending school to provide care at the local educational hub.
Meanwhile 62 % of the primary and 78 % of the secondary teachers are working from home. Some, of course, have to balance the demands of their own families and childcare with the need to offer distance learning for their classes. A host of educational apps, most sophisticated technology, are being offered and gradually we are shifting to the hi-tech virtual classes.
Honestly speaking, necessity HAS BECOME THE MOTHER OF ADAPTATION rather than invention. This confronts an immediate concern to be addressed to this distance learning which is creating a rift between the have not’s and the haves, in terms of access to education.
How is this challenged been met by the schools in the hilly areas of Darjeeling and Kalimpong? despite the political instability, economic constraints, geography restrains, isolated in the far-flung villages and tea gardens needs a speculation.
No doubt most of the institutions have worked around the clock to impart the best online education, through zoom, Google meet, Facebook , whatsapp, YouTube, sizzling with creativity, high-tech methods creating a classroom environment to engage the students. Despite the pay-cuts, future insecurities and the fear of the virus, the teachers have been the front-line warriors in this battle field .
But what worries us all is the widening gap between the able and the struggling, the privileged and the vulnerable. How can students access to internet from a place like Todey, Samthar, Gitdubling, Maria Busty, Kagay where the landslides are swallowing the villages, where the kids have to walk up the hill of 5kms to get access to internet, where they have no smart phones nor computers, where a simple phone is being shared by many houses. More than online learning, is the fear of drop outs, the falling students out of education especially in the government schools loom large.
THE TRAILBLAZERS – St. Philomena’s, Kalimpong
But as they say, even the darkest cloud always has a silver lining. I pick up an exemplary school who dared not depend on 100 percent online functionality as most of the students hail from more than 12 villages at the periphery, of Kalimpong town. St. Philomena’s Girls Higher Secondary School a legendary educational hub to impart quality education to the Girl child of the rural areas. Run by sisters of St. Joseph Cluny have come out with an innovative method to partially solve the problem to make education 100 percent inclusive to the rural areas. No doubt the online classes through whatsapp is a daily framed work, but the major vehicle is the midday meal. A comprehensive West Bengal Government Programme to ensure free midday meal to the students from the Primary to the mid-secondary.
From the 1st to the 14th of every month is the greatest event in the quarantine days for the Philominites. Along with the midday meal the questions of every subject framed by the respective teachers are distributed to the parents along with the essentials of the midday meal. Then the School Principal, along with a group of dedicated teachers are seen in a jeep or a pick-up toggling along the rough broken trails of the villages carrying the essentials of the midday meal and the question papers which are distributed to the parents at some vintage points of the village. The students then submit their workout sheets via their parents at the next midday meal, and the papers reach the school handed to the respective teachers after the papers are quarantined. This unending process have made it possible to connect the teachers with more than 2000 students without any elaborate technology. This earnest effort of the Principal, the Superior, all the sisters and the dedicated staff both office and fourth grade is worthy, and is to be appreciated.
This is just an isolated example, but I know there are other such institutions and teachers working likewise. I know there is a great anxiety among the teaching fraternity; there are unresolved questions, and future uncertainty.
WE APPLAUD YOU TEACHERS
While a push towards remote learning is understandable in these trying times, the current system is insufficient to serve as a suitable alternative to in- person learning. Following the current trajectory, an inability or unwillingness to build and strengthen the online infrastructure will push the vulnerable and disadvantaged even further into the margins of the society and may even leave them behind. The government must work to bridge the gaps in access by improving internet infrastructure and connectivity and by subsidizing mobile data to make learning through whatsapp or other media platform more affordable.
We know the Pandemic will be here for a while, but the teaching fraternity will not stop in playing catch up, not only in finding ways to teach effectively virtually, but also in trying to mold their curriculum to fit a format which was not originally meant for .
So my dear teachers, don’t be tired of testing your students ad nauseum. Don’t let your heart sink low when the parents and administration don’t support you. You are incredibly resilient and adapting to the radical changes that is demanded of you.
I beg of you my friends, please don’t ever judge the profession or your effeteness as an educator. For YOU are the Game Changer.
Happy Teacher’s Day.
[Writes: Theckla Dhakal]