Online teaching during COVID-19 : mockery or an opportunity

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Of the many ordeals that this pandemic brings with itself, finding time to reorganize our homes into a cleaner, leaner and structured living space was one that was inculcated by many.

On one such cleaning day, a 10-year-old fished out a heavy bluish Nokia 3300, her first-ever cell phone. As the bewildered netizen rushed her fingers over the now ancient qwerty pad, she couldn’t hold her laughter as to how anxious she was to use them then and how swiftly she moved her fingers over the touchscreens for her online classes today. The way we learnt earlier is so different from the way we learn now , which again would be unlike our learning process in future.

Research suggests that the pandemic enforced school closure and extraneously affected learning of more than 90 % of the 1.6 billion student population of the world.

Not only the students but the upheaval has adversely affected over 63 million teachers by situating them in an obscured world of synchronous online teaching.

The fleeting transition of imparting education from not so comfortable teaching space of their homes has put a glaring spotlight on the persistent technological weaknesses of the celebrated subject experts, with devastating consequences, at least to begin with. Many teachers admit to their struggle stories from taking capsule online courses themselves, seeking help from a family member to admitting non-cognizance and support from students in live classes. The need for resilience among the teachers was at its peak and the appetite rising out of helplessness to equip themselves with technology-enabled pedagogical skills was at an all-time high. However, the pedagogues around the globe did rise to the occasion and ensured continuity of learning and helped students reach their full potential in these challenging times.

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Now the question is what happens post COVID-19? What when we get back the luxury of our classrooms again? Should we unlearn the COVID conspired, hard-earned techno whirling endurance, or should we bask in the glory of this newfound technical freedom for imparting education? Most teachers admit to the initial struggle but seem to enjoy their tried and tested methods for effective teaching and newfound appreciation from parents for their continuous commitment in these tough times. A Onepoll online survey among 2000 parents suggests 80% of them appreciating the hardships that teacher went through and 77% believe they are underpaid. Another survey among 3500 teachers from England reported 46% of the teachers to be happy teaching online while 58% said online classes made them feel they were doing something more worthwhile.

The pandemic has opened our eyes to new opportunities for teachers to enable an all inclusive techno friendly platform to teach remotely, online and hybrid learning irrespective of the degree of sophistication of the educational environment. Considering the pivotal role of instructors in building the social fabric of the globe and the lessons of preparedness that the pandemic brought for us, gubernatorial initiatives to equip the teachers both in rural and urban areas with upgraded technology and infrastructure supporting smooth operation of classroom environment for further crisis situations or otherwise is a must. A major portion of government fundings must focus on the quality of initial education and subsequent professional development of individuals contributing to this noble profession of teachers.

However, technology enhancements to substantiate teacher-learner engagement, mitigating the flaws of transactional distance, and data access should be prioritized.

The intricate yet elaborate struggle of our teachers can be put to best possible interest in building a more formidable education system,that is foolproof and open to any such crisis in future. The idea is to register and apply the teaching initiatives backed by originality, ingenuity and creativity that have proved to be effective and make them an integral part of our education practices in future. Moreover, we can count on their rich experience in strategic decision making and policy formulation to make our education system more fluid, adaptable and sustainable .

It doesn’t stop here - the teacher ought to be a lifelong learner. Relentless effort to facilitate the learner ,imparting upgraded skills for modern day work environment ,creating and encouraging real world problem solving are key traits of an effective teacher, and this effectiveness is brought about by years of learning , unlearning, relearning and subsequent self discovery. This vicious circle must sustain to upkeep the spirit of the profession. The ultimate goal of a teacher should be to engage his/her students to engage them with the subject matter so that they learn. Benjamin Franklin once stated “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” As an effective teacher one needs to help her/his students transform into Dora the Explorer, engage them with the subject matters in such a way that they ask questions, stare and blink into silence, and then answer their own questions. So the teachers need to rediscover and upgrade continuously to bring in a leaner, cleaner and structured classroom space to the students every time, so that no netizen laughs off the dedication of this continuous upgradation.

(Snigdha Choudhury is a research scholar at the Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneswar. Anupam Das is an Associate Professor at IIM Kozhikode.)

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