Teaching online isn’t a cakewalk: HP govt school teacher

There are several stumbling blocks in online teaching but with better management, these can be resolved
Adapting to the online format has been a big challenge for teachers across the country. (Image: iStock)
Adapting to the online format has been a big challenge for teachers across the country. (Image: iStock)

As many as 188 countries have imposed countrywide school closures due to the pandemic, according to latest estimates of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), a global agency committed to protecting the rights of children worldwide. Down To Earth spoke to students, teachers and educationists to understand their experience of the online system of education, a measure born out of the reality of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This is the first part of a series of testimonials focusing on the transition to online education.

I teach Biology and Chemistry at the Government Senior Secondary School (Chail) at Himachal Pradesh’s Solan district. In April, a month after the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic-induced lockdown came into effect, I started sharing lessons via YouTube. By June, online classes had begun and teachers were asked to use online platforms to teach. However, this is was no cake walk.

For most of us poor internet connectivity was not a problem. In most days, students were able to access the sessions uninterrupted. However, on rare occasions more than one student complained that they couldn't listen to the full session because of lags in the audio and video streaming. Attendance remained the same, primarily due to the efforts of teachers who stayed in touch with the students despite the shutting of schools.

Soon, an initiative called the “Harghar pathshala” (school at every house) was started in Himachal Pradesh (HP). Under the initiative, state authorities in-charge of education-related issues shared videos for each subject and class with the principal of the school and these were then shared with the rest of the teaching staff.

The “Swayam sidham” portal, an initiative of the HP government, helped students get access to study material. Lesson indicators, lesson plans, question banks, MCQ tests and e-books are available for download at this portal. Although the word “sidham” has multiple meanings in Hindi, the word that corresponds to portal’s name is “self-accomplished”.

Adapting to the new format has, however, been a big challenge for us, teachers. Take the change in the daily routine of a teacher, for instance. The monetary performa report has become a daily feature in the lives of a teacher. The primary objective of the move was to keep track of the online classes and resolve issues faced by students. From attendance issues to lessons taught and personal issues of students, teachers are required to provide a daily update. Helpful as this is, it is also very hectic for us.

The other major issue with the online medium was with the checking of assignments. The previous system of checking copies was less cumbersome and teachers had more liberty to share comments. Now, we share comments via WhatsApp, a messaging service. It is almost impossible to give a holistic feedback on the submitted assignment and not all points are covered.

From the students’ end, things have mostly been smooth so far but learning can be improved if classes are for a shorter duration and cover limited topics. Many of my students said that they prefer the classes because they found it hard to sustain interest in a 45-minute video. Similarly, discussing more than one topic usually ends up confusing the student. Therefore, a one-class-one-topic rule is best suited for learning.

However, practical work, an important aspect of education, has stopped completely. "Biology around us" is an initiative we started to address this issue. Through this, we are sharing videos to impart knowledge about the local flora and fauna with students. These little measures have definitely been helpful but can’t match the first-hand experience students used to get via laboratory work.

Overall, it is clear that there are several stumbling blocks in online teaching but with better management, these can be resolved.

*The writer is a teacher at Government Senior Secondary School (Chail), Himachal Pradesh.

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