Schools have tried to ensure that academic continuity is maintained through virtual classes, but technical glitches, unstructured lessons, lower engagement and connectivity issues are concerns.
Thirty-six-year-old Ravi Rajan’s two children have been attending classes over a virtual platform since March 30. The children, 11-year-old Sharan and six-year-old Tanvi are able to attend e-school only on alternate days. Reason? Rajan only has one laptop which is used for his office work as well. The result is that the children’s attendance will be impacted.
“These are not small sessions but regular school lessons from 8am to 2pm. We don’t have the infrastructure to enable both the children to attend e-school at the same time. Due to this, they will miss out on the classes and will find it tough to catch up when school reopens,” Rajan said.
Amidst the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak that has led to a lockdown leading to schools temporarily shutting down, the new academic year has begun across these institutions on a digital mode. While some schools have begun full-fledged e-classes, the rest have sent assignments to be completed on the computer/laptop.
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
This, however, has seen mixed results, with connectivity issues in using the internet for daily lessons and attention-span deficit among students.
What are the schools doing?
Schools have done a digital ramp-up over the over three weeks to ensure that a child’s learning schedule is not affected due to the suspension of physical classes.
Amol Arora, Vice Chairman & MD, Shemford Group of Futuristic Schools told Moneycontrol that the school’s administrative and IT teams have put together a technology enabled learning programme to ‘reopen’ school in a new, adapted way using online platforms and tools.
“We have commenced the new academic year with Online classes via Google Classrooms and Zoom platform. Families are slowly adapting to this new medium of learning. Using these platforms, we are establishing a ‘live’ connect with our children and families, as well as enabling them to meet and collaborate with each other,” added Arora.
Similarly, at Ryan International Group that has schools across the country started online lessons since March and is also noticing a good rate of attendance among the students.
Ryan Pinto, CEO, Ryan International Group of Institutions explained that the Ryan Group got off the block in March, to ensure continuity of the teaching-learning process using online classes. "Our past experience with learning technologies with Microsoft and Google, as also our in-house tool PLATO (Personal Learning & Assessment Tool) helped us in this," he says.
The Ryan Group has online classes for students from Montessori to Grade 12. Pinto added that attendance is upwards of 85 percent.
Several schools are following this model to ensure that the exact school experience is replicated.
Neil McWilliam, Head of School, Oberoi International, OGC (Goregaon) Campus said that Oberoi International School shifted to online learning from March 23 onwards. According to him, attendance for e-lessons is ‘almost perfect’ across classes.
"When the students ‘sit in’ classes using mediums such as Google Hangouts, Zoom, Seesaw and Managebac, you can see kids who are engaged, active, and happy," he added.
A new learning for teachers
It is not just the students and parents, but the teachers who are having to unlearn and relearn the way to teach students. Since a traditional blackboard method may not work for e-classes, teachers are learning to adapt to technology as well.
Also Read: Live updates on COVID-19 pandemic in India
For making the transition from school to home simpler, teachers at Shemford Group of Futuristic Schools are being provided training in the form of webinars, YouTube videos and masterclasses for questions related to the time table, managing children attending e-classes among others.
The level of engagement of students in online and offline mediums are also different. Ryan Group’s Pinto explained that since online teaching is quite different from a physical classroom, teachers need to find new and innovative ways of keeping students engaged for a longer period.
Some schools have already been using digital technology as part of the lesson delivery. Hence these schools may not face too many challenges.
Rajiv Bansal, Director-Operations, Global Indian International School (GIIS) India said that virtual classes are being offered across campuses in India and overseas that will benefit over 11,000 students.
“We have been using this technology for over 5 years and therefore the teachers were able to move on to virtual classes almost immediately once the lockdown was announced. The lockdown has enabled teachers to be constantly in touch with their students, solve their doubts and monitor their performance on a real-time basis,” he added.
At GIIS, the students have the flexibility to log-in and join the class through their mobile phones or any other personal device from home. Apart from the student handbooks and video tutorials that have been shared, the school also has set up a helpdesk to resolve queries.
What are the concerns?
Though the lockdown has forced children and schools to go online, technical glitches mean that there are constant interruptions. Further, children are more distracted when looking at a screen, from their respective homes.
McWilliam also admits that technology on its own would not ensure success.
“Children learn very little by staring at a computer screen. Learning is an interactive, collaborative process which depends heavily on the quality of the relationships between students and teachers and between students and other students,” he added.
A pan-India school chain decided that they would take one class a day for 30-40 minutes. But merely few days after it was introduced the classes had to be suspended due to a technical glitch. Students are now awaiting clarity on whether this system will be resumed or if they would directly break for the summer vacations.
The level of internet connectivity also varies from region to region. This could be a problem when live classes are held since students in poorly connected areas would miss the lessons.
“Network connectivity & adequate smart devices have been a challenge. Families no longer fight for the TV remote, but for the computer, tablet or the internet connected device instead. At times, there are connectivity issues. Not everyone has the required internet bandwidth to access lessons,” added Pinto.
Why are parents worried?
Some schools are offering structured programmes, while several others are merely sending slideshows for students to follow.
Preeti Menon, a 39-year-old banker told Moneycontrol that her daughter’s school has merely sent homework assignments for her daughter who is in the eighth grade.
“They have sent some videos with instructions related to the lessons in the textbook. But these are not live videos and merely slideshows. I feel the students are missing out since there is no teaching happening,” she added.
Menon is now worried that once school reopens, the teachers will rush through the lessons across subjects to ensure that the academic year syllabus is completed on time.
Another parent Dipali Roy is worried about whether her son will be made to study through the summer vacations.
“My son’s school has asked us to not plan any vacation till further notice from the principal. It is clear that they may have regular school during the summer vacations between May 5 to June 15,” she added.
Schools also may not have had adequate time to prepare for the technology changes that were to be made. Which is the reason why students are getting impacted.
Delhi resident Areef Ahmed told Moneycontrol that his son’s ICSE medium school offered a 10 percent refund in wake of the lockdown if the full year fees were paid. But there were caveats.
“The school said that parents can buy a tablet for students to attend online lessons. But these are not structured classes and just merely 30-minute instructional videos. Why should we spend on this,” he added.
Similarly, electronic books are also being seen as a bane since there is a likelihood of the child’s eyesight being affected due to constant staring at a digital screen.
What lies ahead?
With speculations of a further extension of the lockdown, the biggest worry among parents is how would the periodic assessments be held. And whether digital assessments would be feasible.
“The quarterly unit tests gauge how well students have understood the concepts taught in classrooms. With classes not being properly conducted, how will they conduct these tests,” wonders financial services professional Mihir Vashisht who has a 12-year-old daughter.
The next four to six weeks will be crucial to understand how schools are able to withstand the challenge and whether further deployment of technological tools will be required.Follow our full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here.