New Delhi: Bullying by students, argumentative parents who often peep into classes, and distracted children — these are just some of the challenges teachers face during online classes, which have become the primary mode of instruction as schools remain shut down on account of the Covid-19 pandemic.
While teachers in private schools primarily complain about online bullying by students during video calls, their government counterparts claim the biggest challenge is reaching students who belong to the economically weaker section.
However, with no word yet on when schools can reopen, teachers say they are trying their best to get past the hurdles, which often means just ignoring rowdy behaviour.
“One of the biggest issues that female teachers face is online bullying, especially from older children,” said Nabamallika Bhagabati, who teaches music at a private school in Delhi and has been conducting online classes through the video-conferencing app Zoom.
“Students create Zoom IDs in random, unidentifiable names and troll teachers. Some switch off their camera and call teachers names from these IDs, some use them to send memes to teachers,” she added.
“There is no way of finding out who the student is during the Zoom call, so we have to ignore all the bullying and concentrate on teaching.”
Meetings on Zoom can be joined by a link that one of the participants creates and then shares among the others who are required to attend.
Bhagabati said some of her colleagues had faced situations where students’ relatives used the link to log into “the class and see what the teacher looks like, what she teaches and how she speaks”.
Privacy- and propriety-related issues constitute a major concern among tutors. Some parents, teachers allege, record the lectures, while others “peep in”.
“I have faced issues where parents record lectures, then call me up to question me about the method of teaching. Also, it’s very awkward for the teacher to have the whole family watching you while teaching,” said Tripti Guha, who teaches at a private school in Baroda.
That’s not it, said Guha. Sometimes, she claimed, she could see men of the students’ families roaming around in shorts and vests in the background, and overhear women giving instructions to their domestic helps.
“The whole decorum of a classroom has just gone out of the window with online classes,” she added.
Another challenge is keeping students engaged, especially the really young ones who “mostly run away during online classes”.
“It’s so difficult teaching young children online… their attention span is very short, it’s very difficult to make them sit through classes,” said a teacher who teaches Class 1 students at a Delhi private school.
“Since parents have to sit with young children, I have faced situations where parents, grandparents are talking in the background, going about their daily chores,” she added. “Once, there was a really embarrassing incident where a student and his mother were dancing to a song during the class, and the mother forgot to switch off the audio and video on the call.”
Pratibha Sharma, who teaches nursery and kindergarten students in Madhya Pradesh, said, “I take video classes through WhatsApp. I have 15 students in my class and I call all of them individually on their parents’ phones. Some students run off to play while the call is on, while others sit patiently and listen. The role of parents becomes very important during such times.”
‘Students fall asleep’
Teachers in government schools have a different set of problems — reaching students who do not have basic prerequisites like smartphones, laptops, and the internet. Online classes for children with no facilities, they say, is as good as no classes at all.
“The government has given a worksheet to all teachers and we follow the teaching pattern listed in that. We give homework to students for a week, which is supposed to be finished on a day-to-day basis,” said a Delhi government school teacher. Students who have smartphones, she added, are sent the worksheets on WhatsApp. “We need to call up students who do not have smartphones and tell them their homework.”
The teacher said while teaching online is fine, “follow-up is the more challenging part, especially with students who do not have smartphones”.
“I make a lot of calls every evening to check with students who do not have smartphones, some people receive calls, some don’t,” she added. “Some parents have even given wrong numbers to the school, so it becomes very difficult to follow up.”
To ease the gap, she said, the management has fixed one day a week where students can come to the school, clear their doubts and get their worksheets from teachers.
Upasana Changkakoti, a trustee at a private school in Guwahati, said access to technology was a major hurdle in taking lessons to children from the lower income groups.
“My teachers face issues with children from the lower income group, whose parents do not have facilities like a smartphone and internet connection. In some households, there are three children who go to school and just one smartphone. Such students struggle with studies,” she added.
Listing other concerns with online lessons, she mentioned bullying, children who sleep off during classes, and argumentative parents. “I have faced incidents where students sleep off during class, switch off their camera and audio. Teachers think they are attending the class, because the status shows online, but, in reality, they have gone off to sleep,” she added.
With the Covid-19 pandemic still raging, there is no decision yet on when schools will reopen in India, even as other nations are getting students back to class despite lingering questions among parents.
With the social-distancing regulations eating into much of the new academic year, online classes have emerged as an important mode to continue lessons, but they have been dogged by questions since they first began earlier this year.