It’s 8.15am on a Friday morning and a loud chorus of “Good Morning Teacher” can be heard in the fourth-floor hallway of Vishwakarma Vidyalaya in Bibvewadi where six divisions of Classes X and IX are located.
Outside the classroom, principal Sulabha Deshmukh smiles as she hears what she says is “music to her ears”, while class teacher Kalpana Malvi has a request for the students: “Say that once again please.”
A teacher for 22 years, Malvi who adapted to the new normal – learning to schedule Zoom meetings and conducting exams over mobile apps – is glad to see and hear her students, this time, with no screen separating them.
The excitement is palpable as for past one week, offline classes have resumed for Classes IX to XII with the number of students returning to classrooms multiplying daily.
A student of Class IX, Aarti Chauhan, is happy to study without interference. At her 1BHK home, which she shares with three siblings, her assigned spot for online lectures would be the kitchen where her mother cooked as each of her siblings occupied the hall, bedroom and the balcony at the same time.
“I just didn’t feel like attending classes. In class, I can see my friends around me, ask my teacher questions anytime. It’s very nice to be back,” she said.
But it is not without resistance that the students were able to return to classrooms, for some it was difficult to convince parents.
Another Class-IX student, Harshita Joshi, whose maternal grandmother passed away due to Covid-19-related complications, said her mother didn’t agree to send her back to school. “She was concerned about my safety. But my father convinced her. How long can we sit at home? My parents enquired about the safety measures at the school and my father said it was okay to come,” she said.
The safety protocols are rigid indeed. At 8am as students enter the gate, the watchman checks their temperature every day on a digital thermometer. A sanitizer stand is the next stop and a teacher, stationed at the building entrance, monitors pulse through oxymeter. Two arms’ length is maintained in walking through corridors following circles made on the ground. But despite all these measures, students know that they will have to face a barrage of questions once they reach home.
“Did you share your tiffin, did you hug any friends, did you sanitise after every break? It’s funny how many scenarios they can think of, but yes, we do realise the seriousness of the issue too,” says Chauhan.
Meanwhile, even as students on campus are happy to return, the battle is only half won. Nearly 50 percent of students are still at home. As teachers keep their smartphones turned to blackboards and simultaneously ring in attendance on the logbook and laptop, they miss seeing the faces, they see on computer screen, on the wooden benches in the classroom.
Rupa Devadiga, a teacher who takes her classes for the 10th standard, summed it up: “In these eight months, two of my students lost their fathers to the virus. If they were here, we could have helped in their recovery. At the moment, all we can do is regularly call them, ensure they don’t miss notes and assure them that they should not worry about fees. But in a classroom, a teacher is like a second mother and that a student is my ward. With their friends around, it becomes easier to deal with the fears. Because then it’s not theirs only, rather it’s ours.”
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