How Kerala is turning the page with e-classes this academic year

Students attending online classes at their home in Palakkad

Students attending online classes at their home in Palakkad   | Photo Credit: K K Mustafah

Students and teachers across the State ‘log in’ as Kerala broadens the learning curve by going online during the lockdown

Varun Raj, a class seven student of a government boys’ school in Kozhikode, was looking forward to high-fiving his buddies and settling in with his lessons this new academic year. “The school playground is one place I have been missing,” he says. Though his plans of having a ball with his friends have to be put on hold, Varun appears to be on course with his lessons, thanks to virtual classes under First Bell, Kerala government’s online initiative.

As schools in Kerala this week ‘went online’ so as not to let the COVID-19 pandemic throw a spanner in the works of the new academic session, it comes as a whole new experience for students, teachers as well as parents. “Though longer the vacation, the better, it’s also thrilling to get back to school, especially to catch up with friends again. But this year, I sort of miss the smell of new books and the morning assembly,” says Anirudh Shankar, a class six student of a private school in Ernakulam who eagerly “logs in” depending on his new timetable, of course, under the supervision of his mother, Sithara Shankar.

Students attend virtual classes at the library of an arts club near Kochi

Students attend virtual classes at the library of an arts club near Kochi   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

However, conducting lessons online is throwing up new challenges for teachers. While live sessions are there for high school and higher secondary classes, those in lower classes learn from pre-recorded videos. “Shooting videos comes with some drawbacks. In our school, these videos are vetted by the school principal. Moreover, we are now being judged and supervised by parents,” says Jeena Mary*, a maths teacher from Pathanamthitta.

Rajina Manjith*, an English teacher from Thiruvananthapuram, seconds Jeena’s view, and adds that she is wary of “over-enthusiastic” parents. “They might find fault with our teaching style or diction. There is every possibility that they might share the videos with others. They may even exchange videos with parents of wards in other schools to compare how lessons are taken,” Rajina says.

Unfazed by trolls
  • It was an eventful school reopening for teachers Sai Swetha and Arooja MV, when classes went online on a trial basis through the State Government’s KITE Victers channel on June 1.
  • While Swetha became the subject of trolls for her evocative storytelling session for students of class one, Arooja, who took classes for Plus Two students, was harassed by cyber bullies. The government sprung into action and the harassers were nabbed.
  • However, the two teachers have taken it in their stride. “I chose to ignore the trolls. In the case of personal attacks, I knew that the government and the department wouldn’t let me down. The public sentiment was in our favour,” says Arooja, who teaches English at the Government Vocational and Higher Secondary School, Poovachal in Thiruvananthapuram district. Social media pages were created targeting Arooja and these were filled with unsavoury remarks. “What upset me was that it was school students who did this, that too those who haven’t attended any of my classes. But I was touched when my students came forward to defend me,” says Arooja, a teacher since 2011.
  • Both of them want to look at the brighter side of online teaching. “We thought only the students and some parents might watch it. We expected criticism as is the case with any new venture. But, instead, we became newsmakers,” Arooja laughs.
  • Swetha, a teacher at VVLP School in Vadakara, Kozhikode district, says she was touched and surprised that people of all ages watched and appreciated her story of two cats, Thangu and Mittu. “I had great fun reading some of the trolls and even shared some of them on my Facebook page. But I was upset by the abusive remarks,” adds Swetha.
  • They point out that the trolls undermined the effort each teacher puts in for the online classes. “A lot of preparation goes into them. In a classroom, we interact and discuss with students and the present generation is so resourceful that they make classes interesting with their observations. Here, we had to come up with a script that included the students’ response as well,” says Arooja.
  • It took three days for Arooja to prepare the script with Rathi S Nair, who teaches English at a government school in Kalamassery. Rathi took the online class with the former. “We have been close friends since our college days at the Government College for Women in Thiruvananthapuram and so we were on the same page when we prepared the script,” she adds. Both of them are also members of the State resource team of the Higher Secondary directorate.

Meanwhile, there are several schools that have started online classes from lower primary level itself. Raji Sivan*, a teacher with one such private school in Thiruvananthapuram, was in for a shock when she started the first online class for students of class two and found parents attending the class instead of the students! “They wanted to see how the class was progressing as this is a new arrangement for the children. Online teaching is an unprecedented experience for us teachers and this kind of a scrutiny undermines my confidence,” says Raji.

Bindu Jayakrishnan, a biology teacher from Thrissur, says teaching has never been so challenging in her two-decade-old career. Now she takes classes for 80 students through Google Meet. “Although they have to mute both video and audio when the class is in progress, I ask questions in between to ensure they are listening !” Bindu says. The teachers were given training in online teaching before the classes started. However, many teachers point out that their workload has increased. In addition to classes, they have to make videos related to that particular lesson and send to each student.

A teacher taking an online class for students in Kozhikode

A teacher taking an online class for students in Kozhikode   | Photo Credit: PTI

Also, school managements are opting for teachers who are experienced in online teaching at the expense of those with better teaching experience, says Beena S*, an English teacher from the capital city.

Arooja MV

Arooja MV   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

The situation is, however, different in the case of government schools. Vidya V, who teaches English at a vocational higher secondary school in Palakkad district, says: “If parental enthusiasm and supervision are more in private or aided schools, it is almost nil in the case of government schools. So we tell the parents to monitor whether their wards are following the instructions given by the teachers.”

Many parents feel that, given the situation caused by the pandemic, the current arrangement, albeit stop-gap, is practical and acceptable in lieu of physical classes to keep the academic momentum going. “There are technical difficulties but this is way better than risking exposure to COVID-19 until things get back to normal,” says Vinayakumar S from Kollam whose younger son Vinod is in class 7.

Sai Swetha

Sai Swetha   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Swaroopa Sarath from Palakkad, whose daughter Anagha just entered class 5, says the telecast of lessons in KITE Victers as well as study material made available in the channel’s YouTube page is a “good opportunity” to brush up basic concepts for parents as well. “After all, age is no bar for education and knowledge. In fact, I find that the way some of the classes are taken are so much more engaging than what it was like during our school days,” she adds.

(*names changed on request)

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Printable version | Jul 16, 2020 2:38:44 PM |

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