The Study was marching ahead in full focus of its set targets in March 2020.
The all-important class 12 and 10 CBSE board exams occupied most of the days since February, with revisions and exams alternatingly keeping the senior students and teachers on tenterhooks. The kindergarten, primary and middle schools were silently going about their scheduled annual exams and getting ready for a happy two-week vacation by end of March. The std 11 and 9 students had already started off their board years in February.
Post the winter vacation, in January, the tempo at our school is up many notches, till the entire school closes for summer vacation in the last week of April. Apart from the academics, the other major date on the school almanac is the Annual Day ! This is a big day for the graduating batch. The school magazine is also released on this day. Hence, this is a much looked forward to event.
Principal and Teachers start doing the ground work by first deciding on the theme, writing the script, choosing music, designing costumes, sketching the stage layout and creating props, conducting auditions, forming student committees; all in the midst of hectic preparations for PTM !
This is the scenario at The Study campus year after year. 2020 was no different. Or so we thought.
The indications of what was to come was vaguely indicated in the WhatsApp forwards of December 2019 – of random people collapsing in public places in China. At that time it looked like an unnatural happening, in a far-off land. It was not our reality. Then all through the first two months of this year, news snippets trickled from far-east and Europe of a viral disease. But we were immersed in our world, busy in school activities.
Slowly, but steadily, India was getting into the radar of this coronavirus; yes, now the name was becoming familiar to us. Airport arrivals were being screened, New Delhi and Kerala started counting the cases, and the term ’social distancing’ was not yet commonplace in our vocabulary. Covid-19 was romping home.
Then, without warning, on March 16, the Central Government ordered the closure of all educational institutions. Not it was a real issue for us educators and a happy news for senior students ! What compounded the problem was the uncertainty surrounding the reopening of institutions. The more we consulted experts, the clearer it was that this closure is for the long term.
In the Maths board exam for std 12, the examinees were introduced to the concept of social distancing, real time ! And now that had become the buzz word all over the country; the world over in fact. With a few board exams postponed from March 19, the institutions had a tough task ahead cut out for them.
The world was in the throes of a PANDEMIC. The movies Contagion and World War Z had jumped out of the silver screens into the real Planet Earth....
Without wasting a day, Principal, Ms.Alice Kisku, called for an emergency staff meeting the next day. She met the teachers level-wise and held discussions regarding the situation and formulating the school’s response to this novel situation.
For the senior secondary and secondary level, it was agreed upon that we will explore the options of keeping the students engaged academically, online. Initially, we planned a schedule of worksheets that would be sent through the WhatsApp groups of subject teachers. We also looked into the possibility of recording classes as videos with the help of our system administrator. But even that prospect was dismissed as Pondicherry was placed under section 144 and Prime Minister had announced a ‘Janata Curfew’ on March 22nd, a precursor to a total lockdown in the coming weeks.
We faculty felt that we were unarmed to grapple this pandemic, academically. But not for long. We are the ‘resource people’ remember ? And we were about to make that pun come true with our resourcefulness !
Principal was constantly in touch with us through our staff groups and was motivating and guiding us to continue our teaching-learning process online. As planned, we were sending our worksheets and collecting the submissions online. It felt passive. There was no ‘activity’. Some teachers recorded videos of their classes using mobiles and shared it with students. Still it felt static. The dynamism of an active teacher-student interaction was grossly missing. There was a disconnect somewhere. Teachers felt demotivated that were not able to transmit the full benefit of the knowledge to their students. The students also were not excited enough to just work out some dry worksheets and email it back to their teachers. It was at best a stop-gap measure.
And then we chanced upon Zoom ! It is one of the top media-speak of the pandemic times; right behind well, pandemic, coronavirus, lockdown and social-distancing ! But it was as of yet only a shibboleth of the business class and top executives, at best a newbie in higher educational institutions of excellence.
But The Study has always been a pioneer in adopting technology. Quickly we embraced Zoom Cloud Meetings ! We were in Cloud 9 literally !
We were invited to a live staff meeting in Zoom by Principal. We were really happy to meet our colleagues live after a few days ! We wanted to take this advantage to our students. It was decided during the meeting to adopt this technology for live, interactive online classes. We were the first school in the Union Territory to do so.
Messages were sent out to parents and students about the decision to continue the teaching-learning process using Zoom. They were given guidelines to download the app and register. The teachers meanwhile were learning the app, exploring the features and conducted mock interactive sessions with their student groups. The students were happy to see their teachers (yes, true for once !!) and their friends ofcourse.
The inaugural sessions were for the senior most students. Now it was a dynamic set-up. Teachers could perceive if their students understood the topics, the latter could raise doubts and it was becoming more effective with each session.
Then on April 1, the official start of the CBSE Academic Year, The Study brought their entire student community, right from SKG to std 12 under the ambit of the Zoom classes.
Teachers spent their lockdown hours preparing power-points, study materials, class videos, worksheets, assessments and relearning the process of teaching in front of a screen. Screen sharing, whiteboard, enable waiting room, video on, mute etc were practiced and polished by the educators. They were learning to swim against the strong pandemic tide, creating a safe undercurrent for their students by stilling the ripples.
It was a pleasant surprise for parents to receive SMS stating that classes will begin as per the school almanac. It brought relief to the parents worried about keeping their children firstly indoors under lockdown, secondly productively engaged. They lauded the initiative whole-heartedly. They got the needed gadgets ready for their wards’ classes.
The children of all classes eagerly log into the Zoom classrooms. The novelty of the learning experience is keeping the percentage of attendance high at all levels. They are charged up that they are getting to use the term ‘work from home’, something only their parents had a chance to flaunt until now ! The best devices in the house are at their disposal, by official decree of the school ! They get to use the internet as a matter of right ! Well, well, there seems to be a silver lining in the dark clouds too !
That said, the school is taking utmost care to keep the children safe online. The schedule of classes has been drawn up and posted in the subject WhatsApp groups. This is strictly adhered to. Hence, the parents can monitor their kids’ online time and ensure that they login only for classes. A meeting is setup by each teacher and the meeting id and password is shared with students. The teacher monitors the entry of persons into the digital classroom. No impostors or unsolicited visitors are allowed.
The meeting room is completely under the control of the host, viz., the teacher. They have learnt to maximise the security potential of the Zoom app by checking the right boxes to ensure that the students are not left unattended, the session is active only when the teacher is logged in and sharing of material is from teacher to all students or from one student to teacher only. This forestalls any mischief in the digital classroom.
The school took on the responsibility of the psychological well-being of their students. The online classes are proving worthwhile for this purpose too, as children get to see the familiar faces and hear the reassuring voices of their friends and teachers.
The online learning experience is an evolving methodology, pan world, during pandemic. Even government departments, multi-national corporates and higher educational institutions are learning the ropes to optimize online interactions, constructively.
The Study has made the digital foray into academics and co-curriculars confidently, quite early. This pioneering effort has kept The Study Family connected effectively in these times of social distancing.
Students have learnt that internet can be taken advantage of not just for shoaling, but for schooling too !
In the next editions of ‘Academics in the Times of A Pandemic’, we will give you snippets of reactions of our parents, students and teachers. Keep logged in !
Stay Home ! Stay Safe ! Stay Connected !