(This is the first of a four-part series on the myriad issues involving the First Bell classes in Kerala.)
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the educational institutions to remain shut across the country, the launch of virtual classes for school students on the KITE Victers' channel came as a relief for Keralites. The initiative, christened First Bell, was enthusiastically received by parents, students and teachers.
With the second term of the virtual classs set to end, Manorama sought feedback from the students, teachers and parents on the digital mode of education. What do the authorities have to say about the issues they point out?
First, let's look at some of the questions posed by plus-two and class 10 students.
(Plus-two, Hidayathul Islam Higher Secondary School, Edavanakkad, Ernakulam)
It is reassuring that the classes are being held via the Victers' channel. We also have the teachers' support. But even now, half the syllabus has not been completed. Seniors say that normally most of the portions would have been completed by December. After that revision and combined studies are held. Though we have practical exams, we have not even seen the lab. If the syllabus is not completed, how will the exams be held? The CBSE has reduced the syllabus. We need clarity about that too.
(Plus-two, Government Tribal HSS, Kattappana, Idukki)
Aren’t the teachers supposed to clear the doubts on Victers' channel? But what if there are no teachers to clear our doubts? That's the situation in our school. After the journalism teacher got transferred, no new teacher has been appointed. When asked if guest teachers could be appointed, we were told that the government does not permit it. Now, we students have to depend on one another for studies.
Ashraya P Pushpan
(Class 10, Government HS Thadikkadavu, Kannur)
More than half the portions have been completed. If the schools had been functioning, the revision would have been started by now. I don’t think it will happen this academic year. Though it is not difficult to follow the lessons, some classes are completed quickly, and hence it is difficult to take down the notes. If I can't understand something, I ask the teachers on WhatsApp and check the classes on YouTube. There is no clarity about the SSLC exam. Also, how will the continuous evaluation (CE) mark be?
Teachers have flagged some issues as well. An instance shared by a teacher (who requested anonymity) pertains to the lack of devices at several homes for watching the vrtual classes:
“As I sent an assignment for students on WhatsApp one day, only half of them completed the task within the deadline. After I texted and phoned the students several times, everyone except two children returned the assignments. One of them could not be reached over the phone no matter how much I tried. The other student is suspected to have blocked the phone. Finally, one of them replied, ‘When my father goes to work, he takes the phone with him. He returns only late in the night. By then I would have slept. Therefore, I do not have time to do the assignment.'
“We are at a loss on how to deal with such situations. We cannot force students to do the assignments.”
What the parents have to say...
R J Rajitha Raj
(Mother of a student studying at the Cotton Hill School in Thiruvananthapuram)
It is reassuring to note that my daughter does not while away her time. However, I am saddened that her studies are different from that of the students of last batch of class 10. I have one query for the Educational Minister: what is the plan for class 10 and plus-two students? If any decision was conveyed, we would be less apprehensive.
Two weeks | 2.6 lakh students online
Irrespective of their political affiliations, people had joined hands to facilitate digital education for the over 40 lakh students in the state.
Facilities were arranged for around 2.6 lakh students in two weeks. However, a student at Valanchery in Malappuram killed herself over lack of facilities at home. After this, people and organisations came forward for providing resources to the students.
Though public study centres were set up by the education department, there was not much need to use them, authorities said.
Several odds despite the good start
As digital technology is put to good use, the students can quickly grasp even the difficult portions on the Victers' channel. Since the classes are uploaded on YouTube, students can watch these videos repeatedly to clear any doubts. However, after the initial enthusiasm, lethargy is creeping up. This current challenge can be only overcome by addressing the issues raised by students, teachers and parents.
Some general problems raised by students
• Even now the classes are being held for the Malayalam medium students. KITE CEO Anvar Sadath had stated that the main terms would be displayed in English. Though this is being followed to some extent, it is not enough.
• A lesson that would be normally completed in five or six periods in school is now being wrapped up in just 30 minutes
• In schools, one teacher will teach a single subject, but on Victers' channel, there are several teachers for a single unit and single subject.
• While watching classes on the mobile phone, the written text is found illegible.
• High volume of homework is another concern. Materials that teachers receive from various sources are being forwarded to students as homework.
• Teachers need to explain lessons to students after the class on Victers' channel and also ensure that the activities are being regularly completed. But these are not done often.
• Students are under a lot of stress when they are unable to follow the lessons. Nor are we able to explain the lessons to them.
• Staying indoors is affecting the mental well-being of the children.
• Studies after class are hindered when there are more than one child at home and just one mobile phone.
• Students were provided with TV and mobile phones, but many families can't afford the amunt for regular mobile data recharge and monthly rent for cable.
Grievances of teachers
• We have not even directly met the students of class I and plus-one. There is a similar problem in classes V and VIII. Unfortunately, we have to explain the lessons to students through the phone without having any understanding of their strengths and limitations.
• The Victers' class has the backing of technical facilities, but this should not be compared to the classes taken by teachers in school.
• We face difficulty in setting activities for students and carry out the evaluation. If students are asked to write and send the assignment via WhatsApp, our phones are flooded with hundreds of photos. It is not possible to handle these.
• Though we do not have regular classes, teachers are busy with other tasks such as scholarship procedures, setting homework and evaluating them. As the general perception is that teachers are sitting idle, we are given other duties.
• Spot classes cannot be held at some schools as teachers cannot be appointed on a daily-wage basis where there is shortage of permanent teachers. This issue is faced at some government higher secondary schools.
(Prepared by Sanil P Jaison, Abdul Jaleel and Ahamed Subair Paramban)