One of the most affected institutions due to COVID-19 outbreak has been the schools and colleges across India. The immediate shutting down of schools formally known as ‘School Closures’ disrupted the educational processes across the world. This created a sense of ambiguity as well as anxiety among students, teachers, and even parents in India. Within the blink of an eye, the schools were expected to shift their learning to non-conventional modes of education such as conducting Online classes and/or sending lessons and worksheets through WhatsApp. While most of the academicians have brought to the fore issues from the perspective of the students as to how are they perceiving and adapting this online mode of education, teachers’ perspectives as stakeholders in it have been unheard of.
The responsibility of implementing any reform in the educational processes, whether at the school level or at the policy level, lies on the teachers. The expectation that a teacher will be able to adjust and accommodate changes with no adequate time or training is normalized. This normalization has been to such an extent that the common parlance of blaming the teachers for all the wrongs in the education system continues to persist without any deliberation on why this is the case.
Struggling with the know-how
The teachers, being at the receiving end of this online mode of education are now struggling at two levels. One, at the level of using a range of new applications and software that they are expected to know (with an assumption that there is access to the internet at all times). Two, at the level of preparing material/lesson plans for their students with no guidance on finding adequate resources on the internet. Anisha, a primary school teacher, shares, “It becomes very difficult to teach with such limited resources. In school, we at least have a library. The whole day goes into preparing the material and this time can be utilized otherwise for other purposes”. Adding to this burden, the teachers are also at a loss of autonomy in their own classes, where they are constantly nagged by parents and monitored by the school heads on ensuring that the delivery of content and instructions yields maximum output.
Prabha, a middle-school language teacher shares, “I am at an age where technology doesn’t come to me at the tip of my fingers. It takes time and a lot of practice. Most of the time, I have to make my children sit beside me so they can guide me on how to take classes online. In between all this, the school also keeps pushing us to find out interesting ways or software to teach online. How do I find interesting software when I am still struggling to do basic teaching online?”
Another teacher, Harshita, who facilitates Maths shared, “I am unable to ensure whether my students are understanding all the concepts, which otherwise was possible in my offline classes.” The transition from offline to online mode being so sudden, makes the readiness of the teachers and the students unstably swift. Shiva, who recently experienced teaching online adds , “Technology was the major challenge. The internet is often not stable even when you have a good connection. It is also difficult to engage with all kids at all times, so you don’t even know if they are with you.”
The household spaces
The underlying assumption that the teachers will have adequate space at home which can be converted into a workspace is also not true.
Heena shares, “My husband and I both work from home. We share the internet and house space. We struggle when he has a meeting and I have a class to take, both at the same time.”
Shiva added, “Space is definitely a challenge. Sometimes you don’t get connectivity at some spots and at other times you are not alone. Especially with a small house, how do you ensure that space where you can freely interact with children?”. The one-room households teachers are expected to have a stable internet connection, own workplace with no disturbance while teaching. This puts them under immense challenges while they also struggle at the pedagogical levels.
One of the teachers also shared, “I have to sit outside my house to ensure better connectivity. But when I am outside my house, the noise of the vehicles passing by disturbs and then the students complain. Where do I go?”
Gender Roles coming in the way!
The teaching profession is often undertaken by women as it is generally perceived that teaching jobs are half day’s work and therefore women can take care of the household while also teaching in schools in the mornings. This feminization of the profession syncs well with household expectations.
Sumedha, a middle school teacher shares, “The responsibility of household chores is upon me if I’m at home. My work from home is not taken seriously because if I am physically seen at home, then providing meals, washing clothes or even looking at my children’s studies falls on me. There have been cases where I have stood up in the middle of my classes to provide water to my mother-in-law while my husband was comfortably attending his important meeting.”
The paradox lies in how we expect our teachers to always be on their guard with respect to implementing any change in the educational processes. Yet we maintain absence of teacher’s voice and autonomy in most of the decision making processes. Despite this, teachers are questioned, commented upon, and blamed for any wrongs with the system. As one of the teachers expresses, “We need to be a bit more empathetic towards teachers since they are trying and are doing so at their level best”.
Annu Ralli holds B.El.Ed and MA in Education Degrees. She has also worked as a teacher for more than a year. Views are personal.