–Jyothi Menon, Head of School, Ekya School ITPL, Bangalore
With the school closure for almost two years due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, schools are slowly reopening again. While most of the students are relieved to go back to school and are happy that they can interact with their friends, classmates and teachers in person rather than talking to them across a screen, the transition can be challenging. The pandemic brought in a drastic change in the learning spectrum and school systems to have changed from pre-pandemic times.
According to a report by UNICEF, 14 percent of young Indians are depressed in COVID times but are unwilling to talk about it. The same has been found among students, most of them are finding the transition phase difficult and refrain from participating in various class activities and would rather keep to themselves due to the lack of human connection. As the return to in-person school and learning rolls out, things will not simply spring back to the way it was.
Understanding the challenges of going back to traditional learning
Socio-emotional support: It is of utmost importance to help students develop their socio-emotional skills when they are back in school. Schools should provide counselling and support to all students, along with sessions in managing emotions and rebuilding their social skills now that they are back in school after a very long time. Building resilience in students and helping them support each other is essential to reconnect and maintain a sense of community and camaraderie.
Fear and Anxiety: Another challenge will be to assure parents that the school is safe for their children. Even though students will be permitted to attend class upon their parents’ authorisation and will be following strict Covid protocols and guidelines. Maintaining safety at school will also be a challenge. Adhering to Covid appropriate behaviour such as washing hands, social distancing and wearing masks at all times could be a challenge. Ensuring a large number of students in a class to maintain social distance between them and make them wear masks throughout is nearly impossible unless the classes are conducted in a huge space such as an auditorium or stadium.
Parent Adjustment: Schools for higher classes have started and the same has been planned for primary levels too. The primary challenge is to convince parents to send their children to school. Schools have opened once again as per the government guidelines. Schools have been instructed to give more emphasis on health and sanitation measures but parents still are not comfortable with the idea of exposing their children especially without a vaccine being administered.
Adjusting to the environment: After almost 24 months of schooling at home, students barely remember what “real” school is like. The task of bringing every child back to school in India is herculean and requires meticulous planning. Schools will have new rules in place for social distancing and extra care to maintain a sanitised environment. Given the large numbers of students we host in schools, it seems like it will be hard and a tough task to bring in all students on a full-day schedule for all days. School schedules should be planned accordingly to accommodate multiple needs and also maintain the required protocols. Also, the situation is still not stable and due to this uncertainty schedule must be kept flexible and alternate solutions to keep learning continuity should be planned.
Restoring routines: The pandemic has resulted in many students losing a steady routine as they had in school. This has affected their skills overall, especially in basic reading and writing which has now become more dependent on technology. Relying on recorded lectures and PDF notes and typing out homework and exams for months, now they have to start taking notes and submitting handwritten assignments once they are back to school. Students’ sleeping & eating patterns have changed. With remote learning, students had the freedom to attend classes from the comfort of their homes. Going back to school means some added effort and change in the laid back schedule they got used to. All these were not an issue during online learning. The challenge is to get students to come back to school on time and follow a timetable. Giving students time to re-adjust is the only way to help them through this period of adjustment.
Conducting classes online and offline: Lastly, schools face the issue of helping all students reach a required grade level. In this situation, schools must make sure that the students who are not coming to school do not fall behind the rest of the class. Following hybrid class models despite restarting physical classes is one of the effective means to address this issue. But this also poses a challenge for teachers since they have to manage two forums simultaneously and schools may have to largely invest in technology and infrastructure to maintain the two platforms.