New Delhi: The smell of new books, the joy of wearing the uniform after a break, and the excitement of reuniting with friends. These are some of the hallmarks of a new school session for students. The academic year 2020-21, however, will be different as tablets, smartphones and computers replace books, and homes turn into classrooms.
Though schools across the country remain shut amid the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown, the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) has asked institutes to start the academic session through online classes in the first week of April, the time schools usually reopen.
While many have already launched lessons for the next academic session, others are planning to do so by 7 April. Helping teachers wade through this unprecedented situation is an arsenal of technological innovations, including chat apps WhatsApp and Zoom, which allow video conferencing among multiple people.
To avoid problems of internet connectivity, recorded lessons will be sent to parents on WhatsApp.
‘Blended learning model’
Alka Kapur, the principal of Modern Public School in Delhi’s Shalimar Bagh, said they have been “recording every lesson of the teacher and posting it on the school’s YouTube channel for students”.
“We have also been using Microsoft tools and the Zoom app to conduct live classes. Teachers sit at their homes while students sit at theirs and they connect through video conferencing,” she added. “Internet connection is a problem with the live classes at times, so we also record the lessons as a precautionary measure,” she said.
Nikhat Azam, the principal of Billabong High International School in Mumbai’s Santacruz, said the use of technology had made the “teaching-learning experience very interesting”.
“We have been using Zoho and Zoom online portals to impart remote-learning. These portals allow us to project videos and PPTs (Powerpoint presentations) while the teacher is facilitating learning,” she added. “This makes the entire teaching-learning process very interesting.”
The Shiv Nadar school in Noida is adopting what they call the “blended learning model”, which will include live lessons through Zoom and offline engagement where parents can guide students on assignments.
“We are taking what Dr Ted Sizer, formerly dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, calls a ‘less is more’ approach,” the school said in an email sent to parents on 1 April.
“This means not doing too much too soon! It also means allowing time for students to adapt,” the statement added.
Spotty internet? No problem
Places where internet connectivity is a problem, such as small towns, recorded lessons and assignments handed out for up to 10 days at a time are helping schools keep students engaged.
Keran Bahadur, the principal of Colonel’s Academy in Mhow, a cantonment town near Indore in Madhya Pradesh, said, “Our school is an inclusive institute attended by children from different strata of society… some are kids of farmers and from low-income groups, so they might not have a laptop or a good internet connection, but almost everyone has smartphones.”
This, she added, was what the school was basing its online lessons on. “We have created WhatsApp groups of different classes, and teachers send their recorded lessons on the group. We have made a timetable for each class and have asked parents to strictly adhere to the timetable since the classes are being run through a distance mode,” she said.
Bahadur added that there were “challenges with the internet connectivity” but said they have been “managing well so far”.
“To make sure young students are paying attention in classes, we are asking their parents to sit with them through lessons,” she added.
Vamsi Krishna, principal of Delhi Public School Surat in Gujarat, said the school had sent students “online material in the form of video links and lessons… for the next 10 days”. “This mode will continue until further notice, based on the reassessment of the situation. We will have a Google Classroom (a free service meant to encourage paperless teaching) session next week for any clarification and doubts that the students wish to resolve,” he added.
At Bal Bharti School in Navi Mumbai, principal Ganesh Parmeswaran, said, live classes through Zoom are restricted to students of classes 10 and 12. “For the rest of the students, we have given them PPTs and worksheets to work on for the coming days,” he said.
In Delhi, the Arvind Kejriwal administration has announced online classes even in government schools.
Up to Class 8, the government said, learning material will be sent to parents through a weblink, while online classes will be held for students in Class 12. The government has yet to decide a teaching method for classes 9, 10 and 11, and a decision in this respect will be made after consultations with the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE).
Most other states and union territories are yet to come up with such announcements for government schools.