A first-hand insight from a teacher
As COVID-19 spread its brutal grip across the globe, much like most other sectors, Education too was thrown into disarray, with more and more educators being forced to teach their students from home. With the host of struggles induced by the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become clearer that the education system is susceptible to external dangers. The combined experience of teachers the world over has highlighted that this digital transformation of instructional delivery brought with it several logistical challenges and attitudinal modifications.
As the educator and student community settle in to the new normal that is upon us, education policy makers must now legislate unbiased, inclusive and even-handed policies that address the challenges and opportunities that online teaching poses. Most of us educators might not have signed up for distance teaching, but for teachers worldwide the last several months have urged us to throw the lesson plan out of the window and make the best of a bad situation.
Based on my own experiences of online teaching through the past nine months in conjunction with the experiences shared by colleagues, students and their parents, here is a first-hand insight on the main challenges of distance teaching.
The dependency of online teaching on technological equipment and the provision of the equipment has been a big challenge for institutions, faculty and educators. Online teaching in its entirety is dependent on technological devices and internet connectivity, and teachers and instructors were forced to rev up existing data subscriptions overnight – and in several cases even arrange for new connections altogether.
Teachers with outdated technological devices have struggled to meet up with specific technical requirements of online teaching including ensuring seamless internet connectivity and latest versions of Zoom and similar web conferencing platforms. I am aware of several such instances through the last few months:
– A teacher notified the batch of a change in the next day’s work plan, yet a few students were in a tizzy the following day since they missed her WhatsApp notification;
– A teacher was wrapping up a forty-minute lesson when he received a call from a parent alerting that her son had missed the second half of the class due to intermittent internet connectivity.
This list is endless, really! Not enough can be said about the abyss of struggles technology has created for teachers adapting to online classes.
Given the socio-economic imbalances among teachers and educators, due to the closure of schools, the unforeseen urgency to migrate to the online approach posed an unreasonable burden on the teacher community, particularly in developing geographies across the world. It is undeniable that teachers from a low socio-economic background have struggled with no option but to migrate as early as expected.
Research findings on what teachers with poor internet access are to do during this COVID-19 pandemic show that as the level of poverty increases in the community, the rate of internet accessibilities declined rapidly and by implications, teachers (and even more so students) with low socio-economic power to afford a broadband connection are most vulnerable to encounter additional challenges to meet up with other professionals in their network.
Human and Pet Intrusions
The unexpected appearance or voice interruption of a family member and/or a domestic pet has become commonplace over the last few ‘work from home’ months. This causes a disruption to online participants’ attention during the online teaching and learning process. Situations where online classes are in progress via videoconference and someone’s pet dog goes on a barking spree, or a cat walks across the table unannounced are all part of our new normal. Family members of online teaching (and learning participants) sitting in close proximity and peering over their shoulder when classes are in progress, can be rather disconcerting – both for teachers and students alike. Personally, juggling with home chores, logging my six-year old in for his classes and supervising him, and logging in to deliver classes to my batch (especially with no domestic help available during the lockdown days) – at times all simultaneously, has helped me discover a whole new set of skills I never knew I possessed!
Albeit most of us are found grumbling about the disturbances we face while teaching / working from home, personally, it has somewhat helped me deal with the situation when I spare a thought for how my new ‘teach from home’ routine has ‘disrupted and disturbed’ the lives of family members at home. When you come to think of it, they aren’t intruding our space – we’re intruding theirs!
Even though we might have come a long way in terms of our digital knowhow, it still remains unrealistic to assume that all digital natives possess digital competence that are not limited to education but all spheres of life. Teachers and instructors with low digital competence are liable to lag behind. This can be linked to an unethical use of digital devices that can be avoided through digital competence. For instance, due to the digital transformation of instructional activities during this pandemic, libraries have been following the trend in order to deliver effective services to faculty, students and other stakeholders through the digital library approach, but faculty and students with low digital competence might find it difficult to make optimal use of the digital library.
When the last Zoom class for the day has ended, us Teachers are only half-way through. We then set about prepping work sheets and similar deliverables to be shared with students who might have missed a lesson (or a portion of it) due to connectivity issues among a myriad other reasons. Online corrections of revisions, grading of assignments, preparing work plans for the next day all easily ensure that teachers now work through the dead of night only to rise and shine bright eyed and bushy tailed in a few hours and sit before a batch (read: ‘screen’) of forty to fifty curious minds.
While in the thick of the lockdown, we optimistically looked forward to better days when the world could open up. Ironically, as the world has begun opening up, our challenges as teachers have further increased as parents have resumed regular office and work routines, which in turn implies that most students are now home alone and unsupervised. This consequently calls for hand-holding them while logging in and throughout the online session(s) – especially in the case of smaller children who have both parents working.
Moreover, one must also take cognizance of the challenges faced by a child studying online.
Teachers’ / parents’ assistance aside, children nowadays have enough and more on their plate. The unspoken pressures of ‘staying ahead of the pack’ translate into taking extra care and preparing a few hours more lest they find it tough when promoted to the next class in the new term.
The ominous risk of missing an academic year due to repeating a class looms large, and repeated reminders of this from parents and family members add to a child’s stress.
Teachers are not the only ones who might feel diminished accountability in a distance education setting. It is an unprecedented struggle for students too. Stripped of the face time and classroom environments that inform so much of our job, it might be easy to revert to ‘set and forget’ mode, assigning some work online and just hoping for the best. But our dedication to quality learning cannot be relegated to the backburner in the face of such massive disruption.
Now is when our students need us more than ever before, and it is the perfect opportunity to embrace change, seize the opportunity, innovate and try something new.