Rashmi Jha had been successfully juggling her professional and personal lives for the past 20 years. But the challenge of online teaching, during this lockdown period, threw the 46-year-old mathematics teacher at a Delhi government school into a tizzy. After she got the hang of various apps for conducting live classes, she realised a lot of students of her school, Rajkiya Pratibha Vikas Vidyalaya, were missing classes owing to internet connectivity issues.
“Some of my students do not have proper internet connectivity. Also, unlike other subjects, sending PDFs is not the best way to learn maths. To bridge the gap caused due to the digital divide, I started my own YouTube channel, Ganit Pathshala,” said Jha. While she teaches 100 students in the school, her subscriber base on YouTube has grown to over 800 in just two months.
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Like Jha, even those teaching unconventional courses, like photography or dancing in their own private academies, have adapted to the new circumstances that began taking shape since the lockdown was imposed in March. As paying rents became difficult, many began conducting live classes and moved their content online.
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“We thought it would be over soon and kept paying rent until we realised we had to switch to online learning or else things could become financially worse. We started taking classes and virtual workshops over Zoom,” said photographer-cum-filmmaker Kshitij Sheetak, who has an academy in Gurugram where he teaches photography to amateurs.
Sheetak says virtual teaching for such courses needs content creation, for which his team has launched an app, Shoot Guru. Within a few days, they began getting queries and soon their class size swelled to 200 from 60. “We have short- and long-term courses but as of now many students cannot visit our academy. I used social media to offer free workshops following which there has been a spike in the number of my followers on Instagram (his Insta page has over 1.48 lakh followers). The app also has 2,000 members and counting.”
Upskilling is the key
The lockdown brought e-learning in the spotlight almost overnight as many subject experts suddenly had to upskill themselves. “It wasn’t that I did not know how to use a computer but my skills definitely needed upgrading. My teenage son taught me how to make videos and upload them,” Jha said.
Some courses involve more practical learning than theoretical. In such a scenario, assembling the content was a challenge. Sheetak said he had to learn to make slides and convert practical knowledge into theory. “What we have made is literally 10 times more that what we used to do before the lockdown. We have done over a 100 Instagram and YouTube lives. These are the things that are fetching us students,” he said.
Mumbai-based ballet dancer Deepika Ravindran previously had no plans to come up with a website and create content until the lockdown. “We realised we have to change our approach. Besides steps, ballet also has a lot of theory that we didn’t focus on earlier. We are now providing theory classes and I feel children are concentrating more as they now have to sit and see the techniques,” Ravinder said.
Boost in content creation
Ed-tech companies that help experts in creating content have seen a massive uptick in registration. From traditional courses, like digital marketing, photography and fitness, to how to become a YouTube influencer, there is a major demand in the number of learners. Udemy has seen a nearly 84 per cent surge in content creation in health and fitness and 55 per cent in music.
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Knorish, a platform that helps experts build online academies and monetise, said they have seen a 1,000 per cent increase over the last four months. “We have even received interests from a fisherman in Andhra Pradesh exploring the platform to teach fishing to people,” said Kinner N Sacchdev, CEO and co-founder.
Another platform, Classplus, says more than 60 per cent of its users come from tier II and III cities. Mukul Rustagi, co-founder, Classplus, said: “When the government announced online classes, many teachers were unprepared to handle multiple tools. A few of the professionals had faced a lay-off and were desperately looking for mediums to display their skills and earn from it. In these five months, we have seen 500 per cent increase in registration, especially in courses relating to skill training, test-preparation and job exams, stemming mostly from tier 1 cities.”
The silver lining
In these challenging times, one of the few things that keep these teachers satisfied is the response and the widespread following they have received. Not just students from Chennai or Guwahati, Sheetak reveals their international reach extends to Uganda and Dubai. “While nearly 78 per cent are Indian students, many African countries students have started registering for our courses,” he said.
Ravinder, too, feels that online education has blurred the geographical boundaries and everyone is taking time out to learn skills. “We see a surge in enquiries from people who are unable to travel within Mumbai. The rise in interest in ballet in tier II and III cities is surprising. I plan to soon start virtual classes for adults,” she said. Deepika said she has decided to keep making online content even when life will return to normal.
These professionals have also reworked their course fee to suit every pocket. “For our filmmaking classes of three months, we were charging Rs 65,000. That we have cut down to Rs 7,999 through app mode. We realised everybody’s purchasing power has gone up during the lockdown and people are eager to learn even if they do not want to pursue it as a career,” said Sheetak.
Deepika’s website, too, has discounts for first-time 50 users. “The fees for classes for older kids (seven-year-old and above) remain unchanged. But for the younger children, it’s more like a fun engagement, therefore, we are charging Rs 250 for the class that was Rs 500 before the lockdown,” she said.
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