Updated: July 5, 2020 11:55:19 am
One night last month, Carmelina Rodrigues found herself stuttering in front of her amused son, who was wondering “why mummy is getting dressed up at quarter to midnight”. Her neighbours, too, wanted to know “why she was muttering away in the middle of the night”.
Rodrigues, 48, is an English teacher at Pragati Vidyalaya in Ponda, and relies on the silence of the night to record online tutorials for her “children at school”.
From multiple retakes to spending hours on research; from “reviewing” phone calls with students to recording late sessions at home; from working on PowerPoints, apps and images to navigating multiple online platforms — teachers in rural Goa, like many of their peers across the country, are going beyond the line of duty to engage with students during the pandemic.
“This feels like the new normal. I told my son I was getting ready to record lessons,” Rodrigues recalls. “My school children know me as a bubbly teacher. I would never want them to feel I didn’t make an effort. I can’t look shabby or like Einstein with hair all undone. We have to connect through everything…everything visual, even our emotions.”
The state government had asked teachers to resume duty from June 24, but many had started working on online tutorial classes from the first week of last month, when classes usually start.
The Sunday Express visited the Ponda school, far from the comfort and convenience of the big city, to track the effort that goes behind each online class. Here, teachers used to classroom settings are facing new platforms — and challenges.
Science teacher Shital Shinkre, 51, says 18 years of teaching couldn’t prepare her for recording in front of a camera. “One hears concepts like G-Meet, live classes, YouTube uploads, etc. At the age of 51, I am learning all this. The first chapter on Life Science usually takes a month, but in the first two weeks, I managed two pages online,” she says.
Recalling a recording of several takes, with the noise of welding work in the background, Shinkre says, “My son pleaded and asked them for a 10-minute break. Then, when we began recording, my mother walked in, asking if she could fry fish for dinner.”
As early as May, the Directorate of Education initiated an online training workshop for teachers across Goa. At Pragati Vidyalaya, with limited broadband and no WiFi, the teachers became students to Kalyani Joshi, 42, the in-house computer teacher. “It started with teaching them how to open Gmail accounts. Then came training on how to upload videos, use virtual classrooms, and use links to upload and talk to students,” she says.
Geography teacher Bhakti Desai, 33, struggled with trials for a week — camera focus, glare from projector lights, multiple cables. “In rural settings like Ponda, it also takes time to pull in material. Then someone helped us with a digital camera. Now my husband, a veterinary surgeon, records me speaking at night. Our daughter is three and she never sleeps before 2 am, so we have to wait for her to sleep or give her a phone and distract her,” she says.
Last week, Desai says, she was trying to convince a parent to let his child join online classes. “But he insists that phones are evil and children will be addicted,” she says.
The school, tucked between arecanut trees, has a strength of 240 students from Class 5-10. With the term fee at Rs 500 a year, Headmistress Bharati Srivastava says online training can be tough for many students. “Teachers were told they should not encourage any abusive behaviour, from students or parents. We are also mindful of the background of the students; there are families who cannot afford a smartphone and remedial classes will be taken for those students,” she says.
It’s not just about children and connectivity, says Srivastava. “Let’s focus on teachers, too. They have been putting hours in the day preparing material and engaging in live classroom settings. Later at night, they record after their families have been fed. Then they have to come to school physically and mark attendance. All of this can take a toll, but we are learning,” she says.
Not all subjects are easy to tackle, either. For maths teacher Shirin Khan, 43, training online required a new approach.
“I now use books as a stand, and then place the mobile phone and start writing the equations on paper and speak as I do in the classroom. I do not like students to look at an equation repeatedly. They should be able to learn it in one shot so each video is summarised in steps,” she says.
And like in her classroom, where multiple colours highlight an equation, Khan uses multiple pens to explain a sum. “They should not hate math. That’s my challenge,” she says.
There are other issues too, say teachers. Absentees now come up with excuses like “mobile was broken” or “mobile was drenched in water”. In one session, a few students were found to have been playing PubG. Rodrigues speaks of other “social issues” like ensuring that children, especially girls, do not end up going to other homes for a mobile phone.
Bhaskar Khandeparkar, chairman of Goa Vidyaprasarak Mandal (GVM), which runs Pragati Vidyalaya, says, “Genetically we are tuned that when rain starts students should be inside schools. This time, it’s online. It is also challenging since these tutorials expose the style of the teachers’ training to the management and parents, and not only to students. The teachers face that added challenge.”
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