Published: 12th January 2021
TN teachers happy schools are reopening, but worried that there's too much ground to cover before 10, +2 exams
Several studies and surveys have shown the child labour spiked during the pandemic, teachers worry seats in their classrooms may remain empty because of the same
After months of uncertainty, teachers in the state have wholeheartedly welcomed the Tamil Nadu government’s decision to finally restart classes for tenth and twelfth standard students. However, the teachers know that the road ahead is riddled with challenges that they’ve never had to encounter before. Their biggest challenge though is teaching a class that will have students with different levels of learning — students who attended every online class, those who attended only a few, some who only watched the TV channel and others who have had zero access to the online classes and the TV channel.
When the lockdown was announced, a section of teachers easily transitioned to online classes but there were some who had to attend classes to learn even the basics, sometimes as fundamental as what buttons to press or how to download an app. There were also a few teachers who like their students didn’t have the devices to take regular classes. Most teachers relied entirely on WhatsApp to stay in touch with their students and send them notes. However, through these last few months, the teachers have known that when classes do resume normally, they would have to start from the beginning and that is what the teachers we spoke to are planning to do as well.
How many will even return to class?
Teachers’ main worries include finishing the syllabus and ensuring all students are trained equally so they are all able to pass the board exams. But some teachers point out that even getting children to return to classes could be a problem. Several studies and surveys have shown that child labour spiked during the pandemic, teachers worry seats in their classrooms may remain empty because of the same. “Completing the syllabus on time is of course a huge concern but I’m wondering how many children are even going to return to my class,” says Shanthi G, a Class 12 teacher.
Another problem is the loss of employment, “There are students who started working during the pandemic and I’m not sure if they will return to school. Motivating the students to come to class is in itself a task. Those who do return also have to be motivated to learn, we should get them interested in learning again. They need to regain discipline,” the teacher says. Another huge risk for the teachers is ensuring no student feels left out or bad that others in their class might be ahead of them because they have had access to online classes, “Students can easily get demotivated if they feel that others in the class are ahead of them. So we have to ensure that everyone feels equal. We can’t directly start revisions. We have to start from the very beginning.” When we spoke to Shanthi in September, she told us that students who had no access would call her up crying, requesting her to start from the beginning for them. She had promised them then that she would do just that and is planning on keeping that promise.
Re-learning and revising
Ramesh K, who teaches Classes 6-10 says that even those students who attended the TV channel classes couldn’t have had a chance to learn much. “There were very few chapters that were covered on the channel and students wouldn’t have been able to clarify any doubts. So we have to re-teach all those chapters. We cannot just start off with revisions and assume everyone is at the same level,” he explained.
The other huge concern for teachers is that they still don’t know how much of the syllabus is being cut for students. The government had announced that 35 per cent of the syllabus would be cut in order to lessen the burden on students appearing for their board exams this year. However, the government has not announced what these portions are. The Tamil Nadu Teachers Association has repeatedly written to the government seeking clarification on the same. “We are already very behind. Now if we aren’t told what parts of the syllabus is being left out, how can we plan how to schedule our classes. We have limited time and not knowing what is in the syllabus could delay things further,” Ramesh said.
What to teach, what not to teach?
Teachers say that not being informed about the cuts has left them confused, “The government has to immediately announce what the syllabus is because we are all very confused. It's good that schools are starting but how are we supposed to know what to teach when it starts. What will we tell the students?” questioned Natarajan C, who teaches tenth standard students.
The government has only just announced the reopening dates but teachers are also worried about the board exam dates. The teachers feel they need at least 5-6 months to complete the syllabus, “If they reduce the portions by 50 per cent we can finish by four months but otherwise we’ll need at least need six months,” Natarajan and Ramesh feel. “We also need to revise things that the students studied previously because many would have forgotten a lot due to the extended break,” Ramesh adds.
Shanthi says she has an idea about what might be dropped so she has decided to start teaching what she feels is important, “I know that there are some parts that they would definitely not cut out, so I hope to start teaching those chapters. As soon as they make the announcement, we’ll start on that.” Ramesh also pointed out that teachers have to take the same lessons twice or thrice since only 25 students are allowed in a classroom, “In this situation, if we don’t know what to teach, and we have to teach 2-3 times, it’s going to cause unnecessary delay and it could be tiring for us.”
The Tamil Nadu Teachers’ Association has requested the government to extend the academic year by two months and to conduct the exams in June/July. They want the exams to be conducted after the election season is over, “Class 10 and 12 teachers should also not be called for any election duty since they will already be heavily burdened,” said PK Ilamaran, the President of the TNTA. The Association has also asked the government to provide reusable masks for students especially from government schools since not everyone would be able to afford new masks every day.