Changing Classroom Paradigms Post-Covid

Bharti Foundation: Changing Classroom Paradigms Post-Covid
Changing Classroom Paradigms Post-Covid

This article is authored by Mamta Saikia, Chief Executive Officer of Bharti Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Bharti Enterprises and published in partnership with BloombergQuint Brand Studio.

I have been interacting with students from primary, elementary to senior classes over the past few weeks to understand what they are going through at this time. While most of them are happy about coming back to school, a few are worried. The youngest students, especially those who have spent more schooling months at home than in school, are taking time adjusting to the school environment. As any teacher would confirm, the situation in classrooms is far more complex today than before the pandemic, with students having been away from school for almost two years.

Students’ ability to sit in the classroom throughout the day from one period to another, to focus, and more importantly, the habit of coming to school on an everyday basis are some of the challenges teachers are dealing with, coupled with the state of young minds due to their experiences during Covid. I have been also listening to teachers as well. There is enough evidence and understanding about the learning loss that has taken place and bridging the gap will be difficult due the myriad issues being experienced by students and teachers in classrooms.

If we shift our focus to rural India and students belonging to disadvantaged sections, the learning loss as well as the overall impact of Covid is manifold. It starts from access to smartphones, or rather, lack of it. There are surveys that show that the number of students having access to a smartphone is increasing over time. However, in reality, siblings from one family share one smartphone, based on which of them could miss a class so another could attend a more important class. In most poorer households, students attend classes when the father makes his smartphone available to them. They do not have uninterrupted access to smartphones and also face Internet/data issues. On the other hand, for teachers, it has been an uphill task just to make sure their students stay engaged with education during school closures.

The fact today is that as students come back to schools, we simply cannot go back to traditional teaching and learning processes. A lot has changed, and we have to rebuild our classroom strategies keeping in mind the way things have evolved.

Three aspects of education have transformed fundamentally in the last two years:

1. First, the acceptance of technology. During school closures, students, parents as well as teachers have used technology to access education at varying scales. The devices, apps and strategies differed as one moved from cities to villages, but technology in one form or the other made substantial inroads into education delivery. Today, everybody is more open to the role technology can play in education. And this is the right time to integrate technology into our education innovatively.

2. The role parents have played in their child’s education irrespective of their own educational status comes next. Whether making sure their child is attending virtual classes or going to community spaces where physical classes are conducted or ensuring that assignments sent by teachers are being worked upon by kids, most teachers will tell you that parents have been in regular touch with them over the last two years. Parents’ involvement at this level has never been achieved earlier. This could be a game changer in ensuring that students catch up on the lost months of schooling faster. And a bit of school must stay back in homes and community spaces, thereby ensuring continued parental participation in education.

3. Perhaps the most important aspect has been the agency acquired by many children. Virtual studies and activities being delivered over instant messaging apps have empowered children to take charge of their educational responsibilities. Encouraged by parents or teachers, many students helped their siblings or friends in studies. Be it learning independently, or peer learning or collaborations formed within families or among friends, it has given a sense of empowerment to students. Once they are back in school, we must build on this aspect to accelerate bridging the learning loss. Teachers must use innovative teaching methodologies to give students the space they need to explore education, rather than turning the clock back to chalk and talk. Peer learning, flip learning and project-based learning processes have to become as integral as technology in the classrooms, making students partners in their own education journeys.

These three fundamental shifts can support teachers tremendously in facing the complex and challenging situations in their classrooms. Technology empowers as well as provides a user with controls to explore and learn at her/his speed. Teachers need to be trained to use technology to power their teaching, not only by using it in classrooms but also by partnering with parents to ensure that technology remains a child’s companion on her/his journey to learn and catch up. Smartphones and TVs can play an important role here, especially in rural India. Our definition of learning spaces has to expand to include homes as well as community spaces. Teachers need guidance on how to partner with parents, who themselves may be at different levels of literacy. Over two years, parents have played an anchoring role and we must ensure that parental guidance and involvement continues.

The focus in the next two to three years has to be on bridging the learning gap; assessments should support action planning for remediation with an acceptance that change will not happen overnight. Our best approach would be to not abandon the three big changes Covid has delivered to education and prepare our teachers to use these changes well, as the situation we are facing today in classrooms is far more difficult and complex than ever before.

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