When the lockdown 1.0 happened, most schools in southern states of India were finishing up the academic year, and starting the summer vacation. Most parents and their children would have planned for a vacation/holiday which they would have missed because of the ban on travel.
The social distancing requirement also meant that they were restricted going outside their homes and playing with children in the neighborhood. That is all fine, because that is the only way to contain the spread of the nCOVID-19 pandemic. Everyone had to comply with it strictly for their own safety, the safety of their family, and the community at large.
Many schools and educators designed and started delivering some fun activities to the children — who were under lockdown — that they could do by themselves, and also by involving their parents. The great advantage of this exercise was the opportunity to keep the children active and engaged in a stress-free way.
Parents started collaborating actively with each other so that the bond and the importance of their engagement in the nurturing of their children’s talents and interest areas could happen. Anyhow, most parents were also at home due to the lockdown.
The educators learn to work with online tools in the course of engaging children with various activities that are not curriculum related at all. While these activities are happening, there are statements from the authorities that children should not be unnecessarily engaged in online activities. The schools and educators have also been informed that in case the lockdown and the restrictions therein do not end when it is time to start the new academic year, the classes, the teaching-learning processes should happen using education technology, and possibly slowly move towards a blended model.
To make this happen, the teachers will need training to use EdTech effectively, and be able to complete the engagement their students by not just talking into a camera, but in addition to using technology tools for learning: a kit that comprises of generic technology tools, but also subject specific tools like GeoGebra, Geometr, Sketchpad, Celestia, Mapmaker, etc.
All this requires adequate preparation and trials, including ensuring adequate internet infrastructure, and ensuring that the last mile internet connectivity to the students are reasonably good from a bandwidth and data pack point of view. Still, it is practically impossible to be fully inclusive, because the students may not have robust internet access.
In order to be fully prepared for starting off the upcoming academic year with use of technology and remote teaching-learning requires some tryouts during the vacation time.
We could potentially slide into a blended model of education, partly online and partly at school, but by strictly adhering to the social distancing norms which are absolutely essential.
Let us think of the potential practical issues that the school may have to deal with at a time when students start coming into campus:
Transportation/commute to and fro the campus; strictly adhering to the social distancing norms; checkpoints at the entry points to do all the health checks plus sanitization; complying to maintaining social distancing and other requirements in respect of movement inside the campus, classroom norms (social distancing), lunch breaks, etc.
The classrooms and other spaces would have been designed and equipped to handle a certain number of students. Social distancing norms will require the number of students attending a class room session to be reduced to 1/3rd. Consequent to this is designing shifts, and also requiring a student to attend school may be only twice a week with the remainder of the sessions being done online.
For the schools, school leaderships and educators to perfect this model is not simple.
This will need clarity and full support from the local administration, education departments, policymakers, curriculum designers, affiliating boards, and all the other stakeholders. On top of all this is the uncertainty in how all this will unfold with respect to timelines. Consistency in the messaging and directions provided by various authorities will help.
We have also heard that the schools are not to collect fees, but continue to deliver fully substantive education. How many schools would be able to do that?