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Schools shut, teachers keep students engaged, from behind a screen

For the last two weeks, as schools across the country have shut their doors to curb the spread of COVID-19, teachers have been scrambling to deliver lectures to students.

Written by Ritika Chopra | New Delhi | Published: March 27, 2020 3:13:11 am
coronavirus, Coronavirus India Lockdown, covid 19, schools shut, schools shut in delhi coronavirus, online classes, e leraning , coronavirus news, indian express Preeti Manchanda taking a mathematics class online.

At 10 am on Wednesday, Preeti Manchanda (38) locked herself in her daughter’s bedroom for a video conference on Zoom. As she sat at her child’s study table, Manchanda pointed her phone camera at a notebook and started guiding the other 62 participants through a maths problem.

For the last two weeks, as schools across the country have shut their doors to curb the spread of COVID-19, teachers have been scrambling to deliver lectures to students.

Manchanda is among many teachers trying to adjust to a new system of online learning. For the first time in 15 years, Manchanda is meeting her students on the virtual space.

Explained: Half the world’s students out of class, what happens next?

The transition was quick, and the learning curve steep. However, the experiment, which may eventually become the most extensive online teaching trial in the country, is mostly limited to private schools at the moment.

Schools run by Union and state governments don’t have an alternative plan in place yet. The Delhi government, for instance, has called for a brainstorming session on March 26 to find ways of learning in the wake of an extended lockdown.

The HRD Ministry, on the other hand, has written to all state governments encouraging them to make use of the 32 DTH educational channels run by the Centre.

For Delhi’s New Era Public School, where Manchanda is a mathematics teacher, the switch to online classes was made through two pilot tests over two days, and a simultaneous crash course for 30 teachers of Class 10 and 12 in the use of the Zoom platform.

The dry run for online teaching threw up some challenges. “Ambient noise was a problem. Since the teachers and the students are logged in from their respective homes, there was a lot of background noise during the class,” Manchanda said.

There were also a few troublemakers who hijacked the screen shared by the teacher and scribbled on it. “We later discovered the mute option. So now during the lesson, all students are on mute to cut out the ambient noise. To prevent the naughty students from disturbing the class, we lock all students out of the screen shared by the teacher,” she said.

However, the most significant adjustment that teachers have had to make is the inability to gauge a student’s understanding of concepts. “When you are in the classroom, you can read their faces. I can tell whether a student is not following a lesson. In online teaching, some times your lesson turns into a monologue,” said Rannu Pathak (44), who teaches Political Science at Mount Abu Public School in West Delhi. Pathak has been taking a 50-minute class online every day for students in Class 12.

Since interaction is limited, teachers are researching ways to keep students engaged — from PowerPoint presentations and videos to online quizzes. Hence, prepping for an online lesson ends up adding more work to a teacher’s normal planning load.

“At this time of the year, teachers are usually engaged in preparing the academic calendar and schedule of extra-curricular activities, among other things. Tailoring our lessons for the online format is taking a lot of time, probably because all of us are so new to this medium,” said an English teacher at a private school in South Delhi, who did not wish to be identified. “With the lockdown extended for another 21 days, more and more classes will move online. Preparing for multiple online sessions could be a little overwhelming.”

But even as private schools take the lead in the online experiment, many students of the same schools remain cut off from education as they lack access to Internet or a computer. Manchanda says schools are cognisant of this drawback. On Wednesday, out the 87 students, 62 attended her online lesson on Zoom.

Among those who couldn’t attend, Manchanda said, are a few students who do not have continuous access to a robust Internet connection or a digital device. “A student will need Internet access for almost five hours every day to attend all classes. This a practical challenge we are facing. We are asking these students to seek help of their peers and send their questions and doubts separately to the teachers,” she said.

Here’s a quick Coronavirus guide from Express Explained to keep you updated: Are smokers at high risk form coronavirus? | Can Vitamin-C prevent or cure coronavirus infection? | What exactly is community spread of coronavirus? | How long can the Covid-19 virus survive on a surface? | Amid the lockdown, what is allowed, what is prohibited?

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