Published: 26th March 2022
"Schools are like de-addiction centres now": What do students, teachers, parents and counsellors have to say about offline classes?
In gathering reactions from the schooling community, we zero in on the concerns and challenges facing them as regular schooling takes off in the COVID era
It's been "pack yo' bags time" for students across the country for a good few months now. The comfort of online classes is slowly fading away as they have been required to tackle regular physical classes just like pre-pandemic times. But after such a long gap, a fair few are bound to be a tad rusty in the school setting. After all, an online class could never have replicated the school milieu even if it enabled learning of a new kind. That is why we talked to students, parents, teachers, principals and counsellors to get an in-depth understanding of what it means to be back in school again and whether it feels any different than two years ago. We take a look at their concerns and challenges, as well as gauge the students' zeal to be back where they truly belong.
While blackboard teaching can be addressed through the proxy of an online screen, there is no replacing practical learning enabled through school. "At first, the online classes were really great because we got to learn the new software and apps but, after a while, they became quite monotonous. I felt even better (to return to school) because the school infrastructure improved greatly over the time when the school was closed, with new benches and newly painted walls. Plus, we also got a new practical science laboratory. We couldn't possibly hope to use a microscope during virtual classes on our devices and that is something I have looked forward to the most while in school," says Minerva Siddhi, a Grade VIII student from Bhubaneshwar.
But the resuming of school has not been hunky-dory for all as some aspects still remain aborted due to COVID-19 protocols. Khushi Jain, a Grade VIII student from Kolkata explains that a hybrid model of learning now means that she misses half of her friends. "The atmosphere is still a reminder that COVID-19 is all around us. The norm of sharing tiffins, stationery and books with peers has been forbidden as a result. The one thing that disappointed me the most was that the canteen was not functioning," Khushi rues.
The student-teacher interaction becoming all the more organic in the classroom is a big boon and this has translated to a greater interest in learning, especially for teenagers. Ram Daftari, a Class X student in Kolkata says, "The student-teacher interactions have led to students becoming more competitive and this has bolstered my resolve to study."
Above all else, the classroom provides for an equalising environment among all those who study in it. Minoo Aggarwal, Principal at DAV Public School in Chennai, addresses this while pointing out the drawback of online classes. "Due to various factors, like bandwidth and availability of gadgets, the learning experience was not the same for all students when classes went virtual. But now, the teachers are able to discern the gaps in learning while in the classroom and students' body language is enough for them to understand if concepts have been understood," she says. Amid all the excitement, however, there lies the concern that hard skills like writing speed and language skills have taken a huge beating. "The teachers are more anxious because of the gaps and are taking more effort in eliminating them. We have introduced bridge courses for the students so that previous concepts are consolidated before they move to the new grades," explains Minoo.
Schools have also acknowledged the fact that regular school would require more effort from the students' side, in terms of preparedness. "The classes begin one hour later now since children need more time to get ready for school. The students are now working their way back up to regain some of the lost attention spans of sitting in a classroom because, unlike using a screen, here you don't really have anything to do besides study. But the class is way more fun as well because it is a natural setting where, for instance, cracking a joke is not out of place but the same would be awkward while over virtual means," says Dr Shailaja Menon, Director and a teacher at Tattwa Centre of Learning in Kochi.
The parents expressed mixed reactions to the issue at hand. Some placed gratitude for the curriculum which accommodated online learning way before the pandemic set in. "My son studies under the IB curriculum so he was used to working on the computer for his school work. He would carry the device twice a week to school as well so the transition to online classes was very seamless for him and us as well. The only fear now is regarding the risk of infecting COVID-19 but the school authorities have promised constant monitoring of protocol," says Shruti Mathur, a homemaker whose son Vivaan studies in Class VII.
But for some parents, the reopening of schools has been a big relief. "My son showcased a lack of concentration during online classes but now he takes extra effort and even attends remedial classes so that he completes his day-to-day activities. Hence, my worries are slowly settling down," says Gowri Ramachandran, a mother whose son studies in Class IX.
The doing away of online classes has also meant that parents are finding it easier to keep track of their children's screen time and usage of social media. "Earlier, in the name of classes, we could never fully know if the device usage is productive or not due to distractions like Instagram and Facebook. But now with classes in school, we can regulate the time spent on mobile phones and the internet. It has been a big load off our minds. Schools are almost like de-addiction centres now," says Asha Parushuram, a mother and private banker.
The concern of students being addicted to the tech realm is just one of the many concerns that affect them psychologically. Ninumol Shamas, a consultant psychologist based in Kochi who recently published a book titled The Art of Parenting and Teaching, says, "Children are now showcasing withdrawal symptoms at school. Perhaps it is time that we allocate more time for activity-based learning methods at school. Students won't be interested in going to school if there is just one period for practical learning over the whole week. That being said, offline classes are far better than online-based education. Parents have complained to me that because their kids are not learning online, they have had to submit assignments on their children's behalf. Additionally, there need to be special efforts towards students who have learning disabilities due to ADHD and other psychological ailments. I have found that there is an increasing number of adolescents with such issues. Of course, this needs to be done in a very sensitive manner, by both parents at home as well as teachers at school."
Some psychologists, on the other hand, place the faith in children being easily impressionable and are much more hopeful of the situation. "Children are the most resilient demographic and adapt very easily. So given time, they will regain their lost skills. The hybrid model of learning at some schools is perhaps the right way to gradually pave the way for children to normalcy," says Dr Saumya Goyal, a counselling psychologist.
With the above testimonies, one thing for certain is that learning has changed. The pros and cons can be debated for many an hour. A large consensus is also that schools are the most appropriate space to learn and that children can never grow out of it, however lucrative the tech world may become. The requirement for now is perhaps best summed in the words of Kshrugal Bhattacharjee, a student who says "There is a sense of a lack of continuity due to the pandemic, a yawning gap that can't be filled or bridged across so quickly, but which will simply have to be dealt with time being the biggest healer."