For the last one week, Ajitkumar Godase, a teacher at Shrimati R G Katariya Secondary School in the small village of Boribel in Daund taluka, has been reaching his school by 7 am and waiting till mid-afternoon — for students to show up.
On Friday, they did. A grand total of 15 students between four classes — Class IX, X, XI and XII. His attendance report to the district education officer, which he typed with some sadness, read: 4 of 55 in Class IX, 11 of 39 in Class X and none from Class XI or XII, which have 22 and 30 students, respectively.
This isn’t his story alone. As classrooms opened up for the first time in months across Maharashtra except in few urban pockets, this is the situation everywhere.
About 30 km away is the girls’ school run by Shri Swami Vivekananda Shikshan Sanstha in Pune district’s Loni taluka, where principal S B Kamat said that except for Class X, where parents of students are scared of the impending board exams, the attendance has been in single digits.
“We bought thermal guns, sanitisers and masks, and ensured a wide distance between students. We don’t even have active Covid-19 cases here but since parents don’t want to send their children to school, what can we do? We are still trying to keep the morale up of both students and teachers. But it’s not the same,” she said.
Ask students what’s different about going to school in the middle of a pandemic, and pat comes the reply, “Our friends aren’t here, things are not lively anymore. We come, study without a break and go. The tiffin break, playground fights, projects… everything is gone,” rued Ankita Waghmare, a Class X student of the school.
In the next classroom, Vaishnavi Kalbhor, one of the only two students present there, said, “Thankfully, the teacher is here or it would have felt like coming for self-study. Maybe the others are scared. But it’s impossible to learn from the small mobile screen in the same way that our teacher teaches on the blackboard. It feels lonely but I am happy to be in class.”
A few days ago, the students took an online assessment exam through Google forms. “Earlier, when we gave exams, we used to compare scores, there would be competition and we wanted to be better than others. This time, no one asked anyone their scores,” said Pratiksha Gaikwad, a student of Class X.
Kamat also recalled how students would walk up to teachers, fighting for every mark. That spirit is “completely missing” now, she says.
And while a small number of students are turning up in classrooms, the numbers are dwindling instead of going up.
Mukund Bhise, a senior Geography teacher at the secondary school in Kedgaon village, said, “Our first day of school for this year was on Monday, when nearly 30 per cent students showed up with full enthusiasm. Then the number dropped a bit, then some more. By the end of the week, it was barely anything. School right now is very different for children. They can’t sit next to each other, we don’t allow them to even exchange a pen. We have even asked them not to take bathroom breaks unless necessary. They sit in one place for four hours straight and then go home,” he said.
However, most teachers at the school agreed that the bigger concern for them are the students who are missing from classrooms completely, both online and offline.
“Since we started online teaching a few months ago, we have seen that some students didn’t participate in online classes. Often parents told us that the family has just one smartphone and if they have two children, both can’t attend online classes. Some told us they had no money to recharge data packs. Hence, when schools started reopening for in-person teaching, for higher classes, we had hoped to see these children in school. But even here, a large number of them are missing. We are worried about these children, it is like this school year doesn’t exist for them. And we are now worried for their future,” said S M Bandal, principal of Jawaharlal Secondary and Higher Secondary School, Kedgaon.