An attempt to see the real contributors to our child’s future
Sharmila Ma’am has taught Maths for 28 years in a leading girl’s school in South Kolkata. Her students have always performed well in board exams. She has a library of text books and old question papers at home which she refers to while teaching. She is also a much sought after tutor. Her daughter lives in the US whom she speaks to every day. Her husband passed away a few years ago.
A few weeks into the “lockdown” Sharmila Ma’am had been advised by the Principal of the School she works in to start teaching Maths to the board students via Zoom. She didn’t even have a smart phone, leave alone a laptop. She had never heard of Zoom before and did not know what to do. She called her daughter, who bought a smart phone for her mother online and had it delivered to her home. Sharmila Ma’am approached her reluctant neighbour’s door to request their teenage son to set her up at least for her school students. She had lost her tuitions, as long hours on her mobile left her unwell with regular headaches and neck pain. She became confused, highly stressed and fraught with sudden health issues that prevented her from focusing on her work.
Aparajita Ma’am teaches Social Studies to Primary classes. She has been recently married and has a toddler. She lives in a modest apartment in a building complex; her husband works in Gurgaon, and her in-laws, whom she lives with, are not in the best of health. Her personal space in the family home is limited to her small bedroom.
Aparajita Ma’am had been told to find a way to make her lessons interesting online for her 8 year old students. Her maid had stopped reporting for duty, courtesy her building complex rules to keep them Covid-free. Her husband working from home in Gurgaon, was unable to find a way to come back to his family in Kolkata. She was torn between looking after her ailing in-laws, her toddler, her home and also attending to her work. She is tired, sleep deprived and stressed out.
Abhishek Sir is a much loved Football coach. His wife is a nurse in a government hospital. He not only coaches students in a lesser known private school where he works part time but he also runs a small sports academy to supplement his earnings. He lives in a small rented apartment.
Abhishek Sir’s wife had been assigned to look after Covid patients. His landlord began threatening to evict him as neighbours put pressure to prevent a frontline worker in their midst. They also were not readily allowing him to set out to buy his daily groceries as they were all afraid he carried the dreaded virus. To make matters worse, his sports academy shut and his employer told him that since he cannot take classes, he cannot be paid. Maybe things will change in a month after the lockdown is over. Or that’s what they all thought.
Halder dada drives one of the many school busses that ferries children to & from school. He is on contract. His wife is a domestic help in a building complex near their slum. He has a 9 year old son and a 6 year old daughter who study in a government school.
School busses were not plying and his employer, despite wanting to pay him his salary is unable to do so due to non receipt of school fees. His wife also is barred from entering the building where she works and there is no income at home. His children do not even know what online classes are.
These are just a few of the real life stories (all names are changed for privacy) that nearly no student knows about. And yet when Sharmila ma’am finally manages to get online and starts struggling to explain a theorem without unmuting herself, her tech savvy students snigger behind switched off cameras. When Aparajita Ma’am yawns during class because she has stayed awake half the night preparing for her class after looking after everyone at home, parents of the 8 year olds silently watch without being in the camera view and later complain to each other on the moms’ WhatsApp group, while their live-in maid cooks and cleans. Abhishek Sir and Halder dada don’t even have the opportunity to unmute or yawn; they stare joblessness and starvation in the face for no fault of theirs.
During the lockdown when most factories, malls, offices were shut, many schools were functioning, albeit online. Experienced teachers with outstanding track records were floundering due to poor technology skills which they never needed to fall back on before. Even younger moderately tech savvy teachers were unable to transition from in-person teaching methodology to online techniques and struggled to find the time and space to pick up new skills to hold the attention of their restless students. Those who somehow prepared for their class and started teaching online were being scrutinized by judgemental parents sitting beside their children during the online classes. Others like Abhishek Sir had no classes to take and the likes of Halder dada did not even have a job!
Cut to the School Management members, who were desperately trying to find some solution to meet the demands of the government, the council, the parents and the students. Never having used remote learning techniques even they were reaching out to tech companies who, till now were operating mostly in the corporate sector. Unbudgeted expenses were being sanctioned for these tech services while the usual budgeted infra expenses were being deployed on facilities that had to be maintained although not used. The new age schools mostly had some semblance of a rudimentary IT department who helped identify or build a secure platform and trained teachers for long hours to equip them to transition to online teaching. These were labelled “leading schools” who showed the way and received special mentions in newspapers. Those schools who did not have much in-house IT skills provided moral support but left most of their teachers to fend for themselves using free (and unsecure) software or primitive social media apps which attempted an apology for online education. But each one of them tried. No other industry worked harder than the education sector in an endeavour to service their “customers”. From identifying a tech solution or platform to transition to online classes, to learning new tech and other skills, to innovatively preparing lessons and question papers, investing long hours to self-learn or to download photos of answer scripts for correction, to creatively conducting non-academic school activities online, schools and teachers have come a long long way since the lockdown began.
If you question the privileged children who have the means to attend online classes, some want to return to school but most are exceptionally happy with their online classes and are highly appreciative of their teachers’ efforts. If you seek feedback from socially aware & ethical parents, most of them have not accepted the fee waivers that the Court has asked schools to offer and instead are supporting the schools whole heartedly because they have to also continue educating the children of the financially distressed families.
Much public & legal airtime, not to mention financial resources, has been spent fighting to gain a small (and possibly unethical) advantage to escape paying for services that our children truly enjoy and most definitely require for their future. Yet we gleefully open our wallets to fulfil our selfish personal fleeting needs that cater to our present social image.
If we can pay our car EMIs even though we are not driving regularly, order food in because we don’t feel like cooking, shop clothes online even though we are not partying on weekends, it is quite astonishing why the only casualty of supposed drop in income has been the much required school fees. Aren’t our children priceless? Isn’t their education our gift to them for their future? Aren’t the sacrifices of the many Sharmila & Aparajita Ma’ams for our children worth appreciating? Do Abhishek Sir and Halder dada deserve to be deprived of their livelihood?
APJ Abdul Kalam famously said, “the purpose of education is to make good human beings with skill and expertise… Enlightened human beings can be created by teachers.” Are we succumbing to a vicious circle here by defeating the entire purpose of why we have placed our children in the care of these selfless teachers? While we are spending much time working from home, learning cooking skills or finding new ways to workout & get fit, maybe we could salvage some of that “me-time” to introspect into our priorities for the next generation and demonstrate what really needs to be valued. Could we switch on the camera of our inner eye and go behind the online class camera to see the real contributors to our child’s future.