Disappearing classrooms: Teaching in a post-COVID world

Without eye contact and personal interaction, teaching has become challenging–even for the best teachers we know

By Trishna Sarkar
Published: Saturday 30 May 2020
In a post-Covid-19 world, teaching has undergone a rapid transformation. Institutes and teachers are following different online methods to connect with students. (Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Until a few months back, we use to read new reports alarming us to the excessive use of mobile phones among youngsters and its adverse effects. I, being a dutiful mother, tried to snatch the mobile from my daughter’s hand whenever I found her with the device.

However, the whole situation turned almost overnight after Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared a nation-wide lockdown on March 23, 2020 to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 disease. We are currently in the fourth phase of the lockdown and restrictions on movement have been eased in several regions across the country. The COVID-19 lockdown has presented us with a unique situation. The whole world has become highly dependent on the internet, apps, mobile and computers.

From classes, tutorials to dance, music, crafts, news and entertainment, everything is happening through devices and various apps.

Again, being a dutiful mother, I keep asking my daughter to stay updated. Only this time, instead of asking her to stay away from the mobile I ask her to check her device at regular intervals to stay in the loop of things. I even suggest internet mediums through which she can reach her knowledge provider.

We now talk in terms of pre-COVID-19 and post-COVID-19.

This health crisis has taken a toll on our daily lives and we have entered a world where physical distancing, handwashing and so on have become part of the “new normal”. Almost all economic and social activities have come to a halt due to lockdown. Different sectors have been affected and they are trying to come up with various options to cope with this critical situation. And all of this to prevent the spread of highly contagious corona (SARS-CoV-2) virus.

Among the most-affected sectors is education. Since the first phase of the lockdown in March, educational institutions have been working hard, looking for new ways to reach out to the students.

In a pre-COVID-19 world, classroom teaching was the norm. It wasn’t just about the chalk, black board and a room with one teacher and several students, but rather an atmosphere that led to building bonds and mutual understanding between teachers and students. The classroom culture not only helped in developing one’s personality, but it also enabled us (teachers) provide lessons on teamwork through group activities. Our students were imbued with a strong sense of being a part of a team­– they shared and cared for each other, understood the meaning of oneness and above all, learnt from a first-hand experience of information, one that involved the senses of feel and touch.

But in a post-Covid-19 world, teaching has undergone a rapid transformation. Institutes and teachers are following different online methods to connect with students. This pandemic has forced us (teachers) into a virtual world of teaching through different apps and devices.

Well, as far as communication is concerned these apps are offering much help. But here’s the big question: How much knowledge is being actually received by the receivers? Since there is limited or no personal interaction in these online classes, one of the most alarming problems arising out of this set up is the continuous use of mobile phones and computers by our students.

This is not only affecting their eyesight but also their bodies and mind. Students are complaining about headaches, back pain and stiffness in their legs. With movement being restricted, physical ailments are on the rise. Apart from concerns over physical health, students have also been sharing how their mental health is getting impacted. Many are going through a phase of anxiety and hypertension. The same goes for teachers as well.

As a parent I am also aware that once children get access to the internet, it gets difficult for the parents to monitor their children. This brings with it the possibility of being exposed to the dark underbelly of the internet–the nightmare of every parent. At times this becomes really alarming. Hence, even the parents are anxious.

As a teacher, I can tell how important group discussions, group activities and projects are for students, especially for those in higher classes. They form an integral part of the classroom teaching, but these have gone missing since the beginning of the pandemic.

And it’s not just a problem for students. The teachers are also feeling the pinch. Firstly, teachers who are not tech-conversant are finding this new adaption extremely challenging. There is hesitation among many that they would have to present themselves in the virtual world after rendering their services for more than 15 to 20 years in classroom teaching. Despite being experts in their respective fields, teachers are unhappy over the fact that their worth as teachers is being linked with a technical know-how of an app or the internet. Some are also too shy to seek help from the younger generation who are usually more quick to learn how these apps and services work.

Since teaching is performing, every class ends with an immediate response from the students– something that teachers long for. Without eye contact and personal interaction, the whole performance stands null and void through these apps.

Parents are also facing several challenges. Foremost among them is the issue of affordability. Many parents are feeling awkward that their children’s education is hanging precariously on these smartphones without which their kids would lag behind in the learning process. The inability to afford, for the internet is not free after all, are depriving several students from receiving information. This has raised the issue of exclusion and many of us fear that such issues of access and affordability may enhance the gap between the “haves” and “have nots”, even though education is supposed to be a universal right.

Historically, pandemics have always brought about a huge transformation in social, economic and political activities. The COVID-19 is no different. If it leaves us with a virtual world of teaching, it will be a great failure and loss for the whole education system. The teacher-student relationship is paramount wherein teachers are not just knowledge-providers but also mentors and guides to their students in every aspect of their lives.

Certain things have no substitutes and the same goes for classroom teaching. Disappearing classrooms will lead us to disappearing dialogues.

*The writer is an Assistant Professor (Department of Economics) at Dr BR Ambedkar College, University of Delhi

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