Reinventing Teaching-Learning During a Pandemic: A perspective

Corona Virus outbreak has created havoc all over the world. Every sector is affected by the pandemic. Economy, business, politics everything is under crisis and it is looming large. Schools and colleges were the first to be put under the lock down as the health of our younger, future generation was not to be put at risk. Even if the lock down ends, it would be done in a phased manner. So, schools and colleges would probably be the last to open. Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) Government of India realizing the gravity of situation and understanding the need to continue teaching learning process sent a communication to all the heads of the educational institutes to improve and widen the horizon of teaching and learning using technology. Education sector received directions in the first week of the lock down that teachers and learners both should use the lock down period effectively and productively. The Ministry has been foresighted enough and from last few years, lot of funding had gone to set up institutions and platforms to help learning through technology. Number of platforms are run by the UGC, Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), Inter University Centres (IUCs) – Information and Library Network (INFLIBNET) and Consortium for Educational Communication (CEC) to cater to needs of on-line education. All these platforms are knowledge repositories and have lectures, videos, demonstrations and peer-reviewed content that has been well appreciated across the world. Rajnish Jain, Secretary UGC through the communication made it clear that it is the duty of teachers to maintain the contact with students and provide them guidance and mentorship at this tough time.  Anurag Tripathi, Secretary CBSE (Central Board of Secondary School Education) instructed schools in the country to start online classes so that students are engaged and has suggested a variety of means and methods how to engage students using technology. CBSE has launched e-content in most of subjects on the Diksha platform of HRD Ministry. Digital learning material and opportunities through the Swayam Portal and Swayam Prabha Channel have been made public and every student can access these and use these to get optimum benefit. Educationists feel that even at primary and middle levels, schools should focus on turning this time into an opportunity to develop resources and equip the teaching community with recent technology and training. National Digital Library is another repository of academic content in different formats in all disciplines. The content is available at all academic levels in all leading Indian languages. Gyankosh and Shodgganga are catering to the needs of college, university students and research scholars.

Though the system of blended learning, flip-classrooms and on-line submission of assignments and assessments was being done in many universities through their on-line learning platforms, the situation is not the same all over the country. Some institutes and colleges have state-of-art facilities where education is imparted through technology, however, there are problems in many small state universities. Some teachers and students are finding it difficult to navigate through the technological interventions. Besides, India being a large country, there may be many who might not have access to computers. It is important for everyone to understand remote teaching is not about just the tools and technology. It is about creating an environment where students can learn even outside classrooms. Teachers must encourage develop a culture that respects and promotes it. Smart phones have reached almost every household and majority of the young populace is using Facebook, Hangout and whatsapp. Many students don’t have laptops at homes as some of the students are from distant villages and some were stuck because the announcement of lock down was made suddenly seeing the spike in cases of infected corona patients.  Such students can use more friendly Google for Education and other online learning platforms that have good user experiences on smartphones and tablets.  In this time of pandemic, people are otherwise also spending time at home and using phone and other devices for many things. It is the most appropriate time to develop and share the educational content and it is also an opportunity for start-ups to develop on-line portals.

Teachers also need to understand that developing a library of amazing resources alone won’t do the trick. Learning is a conversation; it requires human connection and interaction. Learning a topic and getting a complete hang of it cannot be done just by exposing a child to interesting content. Teachers need to put in efforts towards achieving something out of these, otherwise internet is flooded with information on almost everything. Highly committed and creative teachers understand this and are providing novel strategies. Teachers can use the lockdown time very well by helping the students to become self-learners. Students can be motivated to create knowledge, a piece of art or do an exercise by which a student can reflect upon things that can help them find joy, restore their interest which otherwise was not happening during the busy schedules.

Emotional support is something that is most desired during the present Pandemic. College teachers are using Duo and other on-line calling apps to counsel students on one to one basis. Every school in every state should develop online portals and post content that can be excessed by students. College teachers are using interactive platforms such as FaceTime and Skype to keep in daily contact with the students and providing them classroom experience. Many other interfaces such as Go to Meeting and Zoom and creating various scaffolds to help students reach their targets and facilitate peer-to-peer communication. Institutions are fast realizing that technical support is vital for remote learning being successful. It is important for everyone to ensure that all the stakeholders are connected. Some students need more assistance as equity is missing in terms of technology, internet connectivity and experience. Students should be given instructions through phone calls on how to use the platform and how to seek help. Technology should also aid teachers in motivating students to engage in learning. As such, the remote learning provides autonomy to students and gives them the opportunity to lead their learning that does not happen in real classroom where the teacher steers the class. Sometimes tailor-made lessons help students who cannot cope up with rest of the class. Teachers can provide various forms of content and offer choices on how to use and learn a topic. Students can pose ideas and explore a topic independently to gain a deeper understanding of a concept. Teachers can host a discussion online so they can share their work and have an opportunity to connect with one another on topics of common interest. Google Meet and Zoom are a few tools that grant educators the ability to have live meetings with their classrooms. Though one to one interaction between a teacher and taught cannot just be replaced as human touch that is provided by an educator has an emotional element, we have to rely on technology for a while. Let us all stay connected and experience this new method and the process of imparting knowledge to our students these days when face-to-face human connection just not possible or safe.

Knowledge sharing is not under lockdown and so is not the students learning capacities and abilities. Let us make best use of time and stay safe and stay indoors.

Dr Monika Koul, Department of Botany, Hansraj College, University of Delhi.