September 5, 2021 2:00:00 am
Rasik Jagu Rathwa, 55, a teacher attached to the Don Bosco school in Kawant in the tribal district of Chhota Udepur had never used a smartphone in the 26 years of his career as a teacher of Gujarati language. But when the Covid-19 pandemic and the consequential lockdown meant that teachers had to devise innovative ways to reach out to children, Rathwa took on the challenge to not only educate himself with technology but also to motivate the “very distracted” tribal students to focus on their careers.
Rathwa is among the teachers in Gujarat who are undeterred by the imminent shift from the blackboard-chalk classroom to the digital screen due to the pandemic and found their way to cope with it over the last one year.
The Sunday Express spoke to some of them from across the state to find out their experiences, learnings, challenges and how they overcame these challenges.
Rathwa says, “Conducting online classes was my first experience with smartphones as I had to purchase one during the lockdown. I faced a lot of difficulty in the beginning in learning to operate the phone. My children would help me conduct the online lectures at home… Staff members at school would help too, Now, I have somewhat learned to operate the phone.”
But network and electricity in the hilly tribal areas posed a bigger challenge.
Rathwa says, “We don’t get mobile networks in many parts of the district. Many parents of students also could not afford Android phones… To help such families, I gathered used textbooks of previous years and distribute them among the needy children.”
Rathwa says that teachers of the school decided to form four teams to visit the remote locations of the district and conduct offline classes in a periphery of 20 kilometres.
“Being a tribal myself, I have grown up in such times when getting to school was a challenge and we know the value of each day at school. So we made four teams of two teachers each — we created a route map for the villages we needed to cover. If we could connect with them over the phone, we could ask them to gather at one location with their books so that we could conduct some classes.”
Rathwa also made weekly phone calls to check the progress of the students and to clear any doubts they might have and conducted exams for children regularly attending the offline classes.
However, the closure of schools for nearly a year has caused a dent in morale.
“A lot of the tribal students took a break from self-study and began helping the family with work or grazing animals. Some, despite having connectivity ignored the classes… As a result, several of those who have returned to school seem like they have been pushed five years back. They do not even recall simple math tables,” says Rathwa, who also teamed up with his daughter Binal, a degree student at MS University, to visit tribal villages to encourage the villagers to get Covid-19 vaccination.
Mehul Prajapati, 40, a primary teacher in Dolatpura Dabhla, a small hamlet in Vijapur taluka of Mehsana, not only taught students how to access the online classes through MS Teams but also took voluntary sessions for teachers on how to use the digital medium.
When the schools closed down due to the pandemic, he visited every student of his school, created their MS Teams log in IDs and gave demos on how to attend an online class, access and use digital devises in learning.
With every addition of technology in teaching-learning, students were taught in groups of around 4-6. These 4-6 students would then teach others and thus the chain went on.
Utilising the lockdown period in creating digital literacy among his colleagues, he also conducted online sessions on Zoom.
In addition, without any digital proficiency or expertise he also created an android application for learning Social Science subject.
“I learnt through internet how to create a mobile application… The app not only makes it easy for students to learn the subject but also have questions for their analysis on their subject understanding,” Mehul tells The Sunday Express.
“Looking at his efforts, he is among the 24 teachers selected this year for National ICT award for school teachers who have enhanced student learning by effectively and innovatively integrating technology supported learning in the school curriculum and teaching,” says District Primary Education Officer (DPEO) Mehsana Gaurang Vyas.
Suresh Parmar, 42, one of the three teachers at Late SLU Saravajanik High School at Bedhiya in Panchmahal, an interior village in the tribal belt, was among the first ones to start the concept of street education launched in June 2020 due to lack of network connectivity in the area.
“Since children in the village which is outside the main village stay scattered in their farmlands, both me and the other teacher, as we were only two at that time, would visit them and started teaching them in small clusters near their farmland itself. Also with the support of district education officer B S Panchal,” says Parmar who has been awarded with the state level award for teachers in innovation in 2020.
He created a study material and turned it into an e-book of Social Science subject in a much simpler and interesting format for Class 10 students when schools were shut down.
Like many students of government schools in interior and tribal areas, the 400 students enrolled in government primary school at Ozarda village of Valsad district and neighbouring villages had a tough time during the pandemic.
However, Harshaben Chaudhary (30), who works as a teacher in a government primary school in the same village, that has a population of around 2000, took an initiative to connect with her students.
With many interior villages in the Kaprada taluka having no mobile network towers, village youths are seen going to the top of hillock, which has a temple, outside village, daily during the afternoon and evening to get mobile network coverage.
“We had told district education officer of Valsad Rajeshri Tandel, there is no internet connectivity in our village. Later as per the guidance of DEO, we visited houses of students crossing hillocks, rivers, and water springs, to reach their homes and identify those students who have television sets at their homes. We informed the parents about Doordarshan Girnar channel through which their children can study.
The teachers then chose a monitor from students who would take care of 10 to 15 students.
“Now to teach subjects, we made mobile videos explaining the subject at our homes and later shared it with the monitors whose parents have android mobile phones. The monitors shared videos to other students on their parent’s mobile phones. After every two days, we visit the homes of the monitors and see if the work is done properly or not,” she explained.
Harshaben says that online teaching involves more work compared to the regular classes, “At the end of the day while climbing and coming down from the hillocks to get mobile network coverage, we get tired. It is painful work, but somehow manage to do it .”
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