“I hope my children have eaten today.” “I called all 35 children from my class yesterday. I could not get through to three of them. Hope they are fine.” “Rahul barely sits for 10 minutes in one place. I wonder how he is coping with confinement. I hope he is not stepping out.” These were the remarks of the Delhi government teachers whom we called for their views on how to support the learning of children during the lockdown.
Next, we called a few parents. One of them asked, “When will she get her textbooks?” “Every year she gets her books for the next class in April, but this year we don’t know whether she is in a new class. When will she start going to school?” Another parent was a bit worried: “My son wanted to join engineering college after school. With so many days of schooling lost, will he get enough time to prepare?”
In another time, whether the child has eaten or not would have been the concern of parents, and if the child is learning well, a concern of teachers. But not anymore. This distinction has blurred during the lockdown. Everyone is worried about the well-being of children. Therefore, any teaching-learning approach has to be imbued with care, concern, and compassion. It is in this context that the Delhi government launched its initiative, “Parenting in the time of corona”. It seeks to combine the role of parents and teachers and encourage them to step into each other’s shoes.
A generic “happiness class for family” was introduced for all children and their families. For about a fortnight, government teachers conducted daily online classes on two distinct components of the happiness curriculum — the practice of mindfulness and self-reflection through stories and activities. Daily viewership of these classes on social media platforms averaged about 40,000.
To ensure the continuous learning of children in Delhi’s government-run schools, a two-fold strategy has been adopted. One, for younger children up to class eight, using a non-internet based approach and second, for older children, in classes nine to 12 using the internet.
For younger children, the government aligned its approach with two ongoing programmes in schools — happiness classes and Mission Buniyaad. Information on daily activities, generic and specific, is sent through SMS and IVR (interactive voice response) to parents. Mission Buniyaad involves parents helping children in reading, writing, and basic arithmetic. Happiness activities support the emotional well-being of children and encourage them to self-reflect and think critically. We use SMS because nearly 40 per cent of children in elementary classes do not have access to smartphones and IVR can enable even non-literate parents in facilitating the recommended activities. Nearly 5.7 lakh parents get these messages every day.
Nearly 68 per cent of the students in higher classes have access to a smartphone — a more staggered and online approach has been adopted for them. As soon as a child joins class 12, preparation for the board exams or competitive exams begins. Considering this, live online classes were introduced with the help of a technology partner, Career Launcher. Within two weeks, nearly 81 per cent of the likely class 12 batch, with smartphones, were offered registration. Online classes are conducted in 11 subjects by a lead teacher for each subject. Three co-teachers, who assist the lead teacher, keep a tab on the questions of students in the chatbox and prompt the lead teacher to respond. The handholding of the teachers by the technology partner has enabled about 60 teachers to transition from the classroom to screen teaching. The confidence of these teachers has thrown open the possibility for the Delhi government to consider creating its own online teaching platform.
After careful analysis of the examination results of the last academic year, it was found that in class 10, nearly 26 per cent students failed in math — the highest among all subjects. To address this, online math teaching for class 9 was introduced in partnership with the internationally-renowned Khan Academy. Students join the class by clicking a link, sent to them through SMS, to reach the video shortlisted as per the lesson plan. After each lesson, students take an online test to assess if they have understood the concept. For students of classes 10 and 12, waiting for the completion of the remaining board exams and results, an online spoken English and personality development course has been introduced in partnership with the British Council and Macmillan Education.
A weekly live review by the Education Minister of Delhi with students, parents, and teachers helped in deepening the engagement and evolution of the approach. The Delhi government now plans to telecast its classes as per the lesson plan of its schools on free-to-air TV channels. Suggestions from students, parents, teachers, and principals have been invited to develop a protocol for school education after the lockdown.
. However, in retrospect, this crisis has given us an opportunity to usher in a new era of learning, one that is based on the fundamental principles of schooling — care, concern, and compassion.
This article appeared in the print edition of May 15, 2020, under the title ‘Schooling in times of corona’. The writer is principal advisor to Director Education at Directorate of Education, Government of Delhi
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