Updated: May 11, 2021
As the clock struck 8, Swati woke up from her slumber, rubbing her eyes, she woke her reluctant son, Arun and pushed him to get ready for his online class. She then proceeded to wash the dishes and mop the house. The 2nd month of the lockdown with no domestic help or cook to aid her with these daily jobs. By the time the clock struck 9, Arun had set his laptop up quickly, connecting his headphones and setting up the data hotspot swiftly. On the other hand, Swati, history teacher for the 11th grade, struggled to get her new Bluetooth headphones connected to the laptop and despite being weeks since the classes first started, she had not been able to get her mic and videocam without hearing a few giggles from her students. Even 20 years of teaching experience doesn’t prepare u for a pandemic and a total shift to online teaching. SWATI IS AMONGST THE THOUSANDS OF TEACHERS IN INDIA, WHO DESPITE TEACHING STUDENTS FOR SEVERAL YEARS, FACE DIFFICULTY SHIFTING TO THE ONLINE PLATFORM OF TEACHING. THEY ARE TOO USED TO THE IN-PERSON INTERACTION OF A CLASSROOM.
Swati, looks at her webcam, struggling to find words as a drop of sweat lands on her cheek from her brows. Despite taking classes daily, she finds herself too nervous to start the class. For a moment she hears Arun in the next room, bickering and gossiping with his friends about his new math teacher’s rural accent. She calms herself down and wishes good morning to 50 odd inattentive souls, one whose name she doesn’t recognize. She receives only one reply, from a Shiksha Kendra boy (underprivileged kid). Disappointed by the lack of respect, she continues with her lesson. Stumbling and mumbling through the session she hears her students giggling and the chat is filled with kids passing slangs and abuses. She wonders if the sacred space of a classroom can be replaced by a virtual space.
Mumbling unnecessarily, heckling, creating graffiti on the screen, making fun of their accent and purposely disturbing the class and hurling abuses is something teachers have to deal with everyday.What most students don’t realise is that teachers, like us, are also human and also feel nervous while addressing 50 odd teenagers through a screen. They also feel the anxiety while communicating that we feel whenever we have to ask a doubt in a class of miscreants. So while u would find a lot of articles and posts which are concerned about kids dealing with anxiety, we as students often are ignorant and insensitive about our actions during online classes against teachers and they are as affected by it as we are by this cruel trolling and cyberbullying which has, unfortunately, become a fad.
Dragging herself through an uninterested class of kids sleeping, not responding to her questions or straight up scrolling through phones, Swati managed to reach halfway through her class and decided to give a break to her students. Suddenly, the student whose name she didn’t recognize started shouting and hooting and the class started laughing and followed suit. By the time she got control of the commotion, the miscreant had quit the meeting and so had the Shiksha Kendra boy who had wished her. She declared a break and the meeting ended.
Not long ago, there were a lot of posts and videos being circulated in which people could be seen interrupting and spamming class chats along with singing and random hooting and a lot of these videos went viral. It was found that lot of these people can be ‘booked’ and invited to zoom classes for creating such a ruckus which in turn earns them likes and clout on social media. What this shows essentially is our sheer hypocrisy while dealing with cyberbullying. One side you have a lot of people writing and talking about how cyberbullying, trolling, etc. Need to be stopped, and then u have the same people heckle, share obscene jokes in class chats and make fun of teachers. Even people who promote such content as comedy are the ones who drag our teachers down are equally stopping our education system from moving forward and are guilty of cyberbullying.
Towards the end of the class, she received a text from the Shiksha Kendra boy, explaining how he lost connectivity due to a power cut and couldn’t continue with the class. The commotion and heckling had robbed a child with no resource books of an important topic. After a 3-hour long class, she proceeded to address doubts over individual phone calls. She gave the boy full 2 hours explaining the whole concept and topics again.
Connectivity has always been an issue when it comes to online classes. For a country where most people don’t have basic amenities like water and sanitation to switch to virtual classes when they can neither afford those devices nor have any constant source of electricity or internet is a big challenge for our education system which we haven't been able to cope up with. A survey by IIT Kanpur revealed that 9.3 per cent of its 2,789 students, who responded to the survey, cannot download any material sent by the institute or study online. As per a survey by online platform ‘local circles’ 43 per cent respondents do not possess resources which support online classes. The survey also highlights problems students face in sharing resources with parents, who, as seen in many households, are also working from home. For kids in rural areas who want to pursue higher education and already lack the necessary books & means to study themselves are now struggling to compete with kids from urban areas in the arena of education and go to any lengths from attending classes in cyber cafes and borrowed devices. They even take classes in batches through mobile phones. Examples of Punjab education board broadcasting sessions on radio and Abdul Gaji, a teacher in Bengal, is teaching important topics for competitive examinations like JEE through batches on mobile phones and even through sms. This tells us how far teachers are ready to go to impart knowledge and teach if the students are willing to learn. But sadly, many of us, despite knowing about such issues and having privileges choose to sleep, disturb or just scroll through instagram during the class when lakhs of kids in our area only cant even access such classes. This invariably leads to majority of deserving kids who want to study but not being able to and most of those who can but won’t make an effort. This is a major threat to the future of skilled labour force of our country.
Swati, keeping her phone down, looked at the clock. It was 5. She took a deep breath and sat down, to make notes for her next class and check assignments. Music was blasting from Arun’s room. She was looking at the pile of utensils when something from her fan landed on her nose, startling her. “they need to be cleaned too” she thought. It was 11 by the time she finished checking and making new notes. Arun had fallen asleep. She reached the kitchen, the pile of utensils waiting for her.
Across the world, there is something common in all of the leading education systems i.e. The stature of a teacher and the respect their respective societies and communities give them. Even going back to ancient and medieval India, at the peak of our society and power, the teacher’s stature was above kings, and as the quote from the start of my blog suggests, was equal to god.
While I’m definitely not forcing anyone to keep them on a divine pedestal, its necessary to give teachers the respect they deserve, because like swati, most of our teachers are also homemakers and now have to not only deal with household chores, but also administrative duties and a job to teach and impart knowledge to us, the thankless students who write about the necessity of mental health on social media and then proceed to make crass jokes on teachers in a class, giving them headaches. In a country where there is a shortage of skilled and educated labourers with our top creamy layer of human resource being outsourced to the west, teachers are the base and main pillar to develop human resource, to remove ignorance and make sure the future of our country is in able hands and they do all this and more during an year where horrid incidents happen almost every week. And you thought your life was difficult?
Schools are one of the hardest hits by this pandemic and the subsequent lockdown. A lot of schools are hanging by a hook or are on the verge of closing. This is troubling news for all the teachers employed in such institutions and as the future remains uncertain for such breadwinners, i think the least we can do to ease their burden is keep our mic off when our dog is barking in the background. We can pay attention in the class, ask questions, be interactive, and not promote the behaviour where explicit chats are spammed in middle of the class, heckling is done and call such people out for their behaviour. A simple “good morning” and “thank you for teaching us” goes a long way. Check up on your teachers that you haven't talked to. Send them an appreciation text sometimes. Most importantly, if u really want the education system to change it has to start from us. And that has to be by changing the way we look at teachers, we need to realise the fact that in the future every piece of bread we eat, we have a bed to sleep and a roof over our heads and don’t have to stand in queue for a bucket of water, is because a teacher worked day and night, made notes and taught us so that we can reach our full potential. So, let’s not flatter them only for that one extra mark or a position in the council and actually change the scenario we can change. All we have to do is behave and understand a little. Maybe the victim in this case is silent but we shouldn’t be. And at the end of the day, its understandable that the times are tough, the light at the end of the tunnel seems dim but as students and tools of change we must come together , and show the people who guide us as flag-bearers of the future of our country show that we deserve to own it.
THIS BLOG IS DEDICATED TO ALL THE TEACHERS WHO HAVE TAUGHT ME OVER THE YEARS AND MADE ME WHO I AM.