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Teachers and students connect online as novel coronavirus infection scare shuts down educational institutes

From schools and tuitions to yoga and singing sessions — the classroom has shifted online

By Brinda Sarkar in Salt Lake
  • Published 4.04.20, 6:23 PM
  • Updated 4.04.20, 6:23 PM
  • 5 mins read
  •  
(iStock)

The class must go on. Schools and institutes may be locked down to stop the spread of coronavirus but the indomitable spirit of teachers and students has ensured that education does not stop.

From schools and tuitions to yoga and singing sessions — the classroom has shifted online.

How it’s done

Arpita Roy sits before her harmonium, switches on the Google Duo app on her phone, sees her students online and leads them on song. The founder of CE Block’s Sangeetalaya music school couldn’t imagine life without music so she learnt the technology from her son to keep the classes alive.

Rakhi Nundy, a Bengali teacher of AA Block, is also teaching batches over the internet. “There’s no other way. Even the Prime Minister doesn’t know if the lockdown will end after 21 days but life has to go on. The syllabus will not finish if students become complacent now,” say the lady who is using Skype and Google Duo. “Students are sending me their homework by email or WhatsApp, I’m correcting them and sending them back.”

Jayeeta Chanda, who teaches at B.P. Poddar Institute of Management and Technology, says they moved online the very day after the government called for a shut down. “It was possible as the college had an existing online platform. Teachers started sharing study material there, uploading YouTube videos and students were to go through them and come to us to clear doubts. A class that would take me an hour is now taking three hours with preparation but at least students are not suffering,” says the resident of New Town’s Sunrise Point.

Suvadeep Chakraborty, founder of the elocution class Shrutibritto in HB Block, will start online classes from next week. “People are so depressed at the moment that a music or recitation class will only ease their tension. I shall take batches of four to five students, teach them at once but ask them to recite individually,” he says.

Better than before

Some classes are going great guns. Rajyam Gupta, founder of Yoga Plus says they only have space for 30 students at their centres in BF Block, Kankurgachi and Bangur Avenue. “But my Facebook Live sessions every morning are garnering thousands of views. Students are tuning in from around the world,” says the teacher who has decided to keep the classes free of cost during the lockdown.

To cater to the different levels of students, he is teaching basic asanas and specifying the dos and don’ts before the difficult ones.

Students of spirituality are logging in too. “Our institute has always had e-learning courses so this is something we encourage,” says Subhasis Chakrabarti, who conducts classes for Vedanta Institute Kolkata at AMP Vaisaakkhi mall.

Their first few classes were on tackling the lockdown and Covid-19 scare using knowledge from scriptures like the Bhagwad Gita and even students who have now shifted to different cities signed in for solace. “We are finding online classes useful and even after the lockdown ends would like to continue them for those living out of town,” says Chakrabarti.

Puloma Sen of Nrityam dance institute in DA Block cannot recall a time all her students were available whenever she called a class. “Everyone is free now and getting bored. They are jumping at the prospect of a dance class and attendance is higher than ever before,” smiles Sen. “Online classes are not ideal but something is better than nothing. At least students are staying in touch with the art.”

Shirin Anwar, one of the students of Nrityam is delighted she’s getting to dance during the lockdown. “I was appearing for my Class XII CBSE exams when the lockdown got issued. I still have two papers left and am frustrated studying for them,” says the resident of Falguni Abasan. “But thanks to online classes I’m dancing after four or five months. Plus I’m relieved at being able to see some familiar faces despite not stepping out.”

The challenges

Online classes are not without their share of challenges. Perhaps it is toughest for schools, that have to juggle multiple subjects and thousands of students. “It’s a new system and we experimenting to see what works,” says Ajay Chopra, administrator of St Francis Xavier school in Purbachal. “We started online classes on April 1 for Class X and XII. We are using the Zoom app and offering three subjects a day. After a week we’ll have a review meeting with teachers to find out the best teaching methods.”

Before class, teachers are conducting an orientation session to teach online classroom etiquette. “Students are to keep their mute button on so others are not disturbed by noises from their end. They must also avoid any movement in their background else the visual would distract others,” explains Chopra.

While humanities subjects might still be taught over an online lecture, a math teacher from Salt Lake’ Sector I wonders how he is to explain the steps of sums. “I’ve found some hardware online that allows a teacher to write on a mousepad-like device through which his writings get transferred to the screen. But with everything locked down, where am I to buy this?” he asks.

The teacher, who asked not to be named, is also a guest faculty at a Sector V college. “Full-time faculty there have been asked to take Zoom sessions but not everyone has WiFi at home and it is consuming way too much data,” he reasons.

Roy of Sangeetalaya complains of internet issues too. “A group can begin singing together but if one has a slow connection, there is a delay in voice transmission and the whole choir goes out of tune. Also, the audio and visual do not get transmitted together sometimes so I’m asking students not to lip-read my song but only to listen to them.”

Those like Nundy, the Bengali teacher, have decided to settle for online payment of fees during the lockdown. Those like Roy haven’t thought of fees yet. “I’m most upset at having to postpone our annual day that was scheduled for April. We had been rehearsing since after the Pujas and were absolutely ready to perform. It’s no use planning an online show as there’s no ambience without a live audience,” she says.

Attention span

Jhumur Mandal, an English teacher of AE Block, is yet to go online. “Eventually I may have to but will the classes be as effective? My cousin, who is a professor at an IIT, says half his students are not responding to online classes so what can I expect from middle school students?” she wonders.

Dipika Ghatak, a student of nutrition at NSHM Knowledge Campus, is satisfied with the Zoom classes she is attending. But she also runs an art school Spectrum and tried to conduct online classes for her students, unsuccessfully.

“Most of my students are five and six-year-olds who found Zoom classes too serious. They walked off,” says the resident of New Town’s CD Block. Ghatak has now asked the kids to draw the theme “coronavirus” and send her their art over WhatsAap for her to check and send tips.

Priyanka Niyogi who teaches classes II and III in DPS Megacity, is preparing for online classes soon. But more than technology she’s worried about attention span. “Young children are tough enough to manage in class. Online, it will be even tougher. I will need co-operation from parents. Maybe parents can sit with the students and ensure they pay attention,” says the resident of DB Block.