New Delhi: For the last two weeks, Anisha Koul from R.N. Podar School in Mumbai has been waking up in the morning to attend her classes – while sitting at home.
She only has to open her laptop and log in to Zoom (a remote video conferencing website), and within a few minutes, she is in a virtual classroom with her teacher and classmates.
Ever since the Centre announced a 21-day national lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many schools have started taking online lectures using different apps like Zoom, Google Classrooms, Google Meet and so on, especially for Class 12 students like Anisha. The initial few months, Class 12 students say, are crucial because most of the syllabus is covered before the first term exam. However, the online classes have slowed down the process.
“The school will have to cover a lot when the lockdown gets over,” says Lavanya Goyal, a Class 12 science student at Delhi Public School, Noida. “There will be a lot of pressure on us when school reopens.”
Hassles of remote learning
While it is comfortable attending school from home, many students say that they find it difficult to sit through the lectures. It gets monotonous at times, they tend to lose concentration and internet connectivity is not good for all – especially those living in Kashmir and other remote areas.
“A lot of times, everyone starts answering at the same time and their voices overlap. It then gets difficult to follow what the teacher is saying. Although the teacher tries to control it, it isn’t easy when there are so many students,” says Aarushi Koul, a student at D.P.S. Noida.
Besides, teachers can’t ensure students’ engagement and check if they are understanding the concepts taught online. “We get homework but the teacher doesn’t check. Actually, it isn’t possible for him or her to keep a track on who all are attentive and who all are not. Sometimes they ask questions to ensure, but that doesn’t really work out always,” says Anisha.
The lab periods, which are essential for science students, also can’t happen over Zoom or other channels. Most schools have asked students to work on the theory part so that they have ample time to practice their experiments whenever the lockdown is lifted.
Technical glitches, students say, is another issue that interrupts the lectures sometimes.”It gets really difficult for me when the Wi-Fi suddenly stops working. You can’t hear your teacher’s voice. Sometimes, it breaks when the connectivity isn’t good and I lose concentration,” says Vaidehi, a student at R.N. Podar School.
One of her teachers, she said, had to postpone the class because her Wi-Fi was not working. Also, some teachers who are not used to using new technology face difficulties while operating the site and managing the class, students say.
Technology is a big barrier for many cities because online classes require a good internet connection – especially for science subjects which need diagrams, charts and other graphic elements.
Ashok Wasu, the director of Sun Valley School in Dehradun, says that their school is contemplating whether a virtual classroom set-up would work out in their city. “We will have to check how many students have internet access and other necessary devices to be able to attend such [online] classes. If the lockdown extends even further, we will have to find an alternative way, perhaps,” he said.
Some schools in Rajasthan and government schools including Kendriya Vidyalayas are not conducting any online classes.
“We haven’t got the results of the previous class [Class 11] and there is no information from school about online classes. I have taken [science with] biology. I don’t know how will the school cover-up the syllabus,” says Apoorva Choudhary, a Class 12 student at Kendriya Vidyalaya, Gole Market.
Some schools like the Modern English Academy in Kolkata are using their school’s mobile app to send important information, upload class notes and send assignments to be done.
“Our school’s app was developed about two years ago but its usage has increased in the past one week. We get instant notification whenever the teachers upload any new assignment. We got our Class 11 result on this app only,” said Saptaparna.
Online classes in 2G
The schools in Kashmir, on the other hand, seem to be the most prepared despite the 2G services. “This is a politically volatile region and you can never tell what happens next,” says Ehsan, who manages online classes at D.P.S. Srinagar. “We have to be prepared always.”
Since it’s difficult to stream live classes in Kashmir, schools record lectures on different subjects and upload them on their YouTube channel for students to download and watch later. Besides, they use Google Classrooms to embed the recorded videos and make the interaction between the students, parents and teachers easy.
They had started recording the lectures from February 25, when riots were taking place in North East Delhi. Hence, they have enough pre-recorded videos which they will be releasing throughout the lockdown period. For parents who are not tech-savvy, they have released phone numbers and email IDs for any kind of technical assistance.
However, since the teachers solve the equations and draw the diagrams on a board in the video, it sometimes gets difficult for students to read what’s been written. “The videos play pretty well at 144 pixel – lowest streaming quality on YouTube. But we only have 2G services for now and we really can’t do anything. Downloading these videos, too, takes a lot of time,” he says.
Other schools like the Foundation World school in Tawheed Bagh, Srinagar and Shah Rasool Welkin Higher Secondary School in Sopore are also using digital mediums to keep the classes going.
Last August, when the Centre revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, Ehsan and his team collected lecture videos on a pen drive and have it to students to share among themselves. However, this won’t be possible this time because no one is allowed to step out. Hence, they are releasing the videos on YouTube. While the student engagement hasn’t been much in the past couple of weeks, Ehsan is hopeful that it will increase in the coming days.
Parents and students in Kashmir, Ehsan says, are happy with this initiative and are gradually familiarising themselves with it. “We will be exploring the companies that offer avenues for virtual lab environments for our science students. We wish to continue online learning in parallel with classroom learning when the lockdown ends,” he says.
Students in other parts of the country are trying to use this period as an opportunity to pursue their hobbies and learn how to sit through a lecture without getting distracted. Some say that they work better from home.
“I am writing poetry and reading story books these days because I don’t think I’ll get time whenever the school re-opens,” says Saptaparna. Similarly, Lavanya and her friends try to not check their phones or watch TV shows while the lecture is on. “Me and my friends try to see if we can discipline ourselves while we are at home,” Lavanya says.
However, the students still miss school and their friends.
“I always hated waking up in the morning and getting ready for school but now I want this lockdown to get over soon. I never thought I’d say this but I really want to go back to school soon,” Saptaparna added.