As the months of 2020 roll by, we continue to sail through a pandemic-affected world. The statistics are both encouraging and disastrous, depending on which news articles one reads. However, life is going on and we all are finding ways to adapt to the new normal. I had shared my thoughts about the new normal in an earlier article. In this article, I explore the concept further.
As a teacher, I have adapted to the restrictions and limitations that have seriously impacted the field of education. Here, I contemplate on three aspects of adapting to the new normal.
- Syllabus reduction
- Online classes only
- Enabling a smooth transition
Syllabus reduction – response to the new normal
Response to stimulus
Questions that have been asked around – should we declare the academic year 2020 as ‘zero year’? Should we remove academic sessions and milestones from consideration for this year? Most parents might not agree with this. Social conditioning dictates that the removal of academic milestones implies that the year has been wasted. Also, the impact of a ‘zero year’ is hugely different for children of different age groups. It is not a severe hindrance to a child in grade 2 or 6. However, it will be a career-changing and hence a life-changing prospect to a child in grades 10 or 12.
During a conversation with a grade 10 student in my session, I learned that their school has reduced the content. Chapters have been removed for subjects where online teaching through recorded videos is implemented. This is how the powers that be have responded to the new normal. This fact led me to ponder on the implications of reducing the syllabus content.
Impact of this response
Will the syllabus for next year be subsequently reduced to account for the chapters removed this year? It is unlikely that the syllabus for next year will be upgraded, we will have moved on. This will undoubtedly introduce a gap in the students’ conceptual understanding.
So, the question is, is it reasonable to reduce the syllabus only for one grade or is it smart to find better ways to engage? In my opinion, it is a flawed approach to reduce the content for one year only, without considering the long-term implications.
Many students are already in a disadvantageous position of progressing from one grade to another with gaps in understanding. Most schools follow the ‘unsaid rule’ to ‘pass’ students until grade 8. I have seen the impact of this on students at higher grades whose understanding of fundamental concepts is decidedly shaky. It is an uphill task for a teacher to engage a student with a grade 8 concept when a grade 6 concept is not understood. Additionally, the reduction of the syllabus for grade 10 would mean a higher effort in grades 11 and 12. My take is that the final examination timetable should be postponed rather than reducing the syllabus. New normal or not, the long-term impact should be considered while making short term changes.
Digital classes only – adaption to the new normal
The need of the hour
The inevitable impact imposed by social distancing norms is that schooling has switched to a predominantly digital mode. Whether it is through live sessions, recorded classes, conference calls, or other means, teacher-student interaction is only through digital contact. This is the most significant feature yet of the new normal.
Most teachers will agree with me that online sessions for children in groups of 30 or 40 are arduous. So, do we abandon the online situation altogether? That is certainly not an option in the current scenario. How do we tackle this problem head-on?
Finding creative solutions
I have a two-pronged approach to solve this problem. One – reduce the group size, two – reduce the session duration. I have found that 8 to 10 students in a group are my personal sweet spot. At Abheek Academy where I am a consultant educator, the number of students in each grade matches my sweet spot. So, we plan sessions as follows:
- 30 minutes for grades 1 to 4
- 40 minutes for grades 5 and above
This might not be directly possible in mainstream schools where the number of students is high. Ways to address the challenge of a large number of students may be:
- Break down each class into smaller groups
- Reduce the duration of each session
- Schedule sessions on alternate days or any other staggered timetable that works
- Allocate teachers differently than in the traditional school setting
This approach will require a change in mind-set and adaptation to new methods of teaching. It will also allow the teacher to plan her sessions better and deliver them effectively. It is important that teachers do not burn out. Learning and adapting is the inevitable need of the hour. New normal also means new ways of engagement.
Enabling a smooth transition – the inevitable need for the new normal
A tightrope walk
The new normal dictates that adaptation is inevitable, for sure. However, it is essential that there is a smooth transition. The ecosystem has multiple stakeholders – students, parents, teachers, school management. Also, the challenges are multi-fold – students’ mental well-being, readiness to deliver and receive digital sessions, teachers’ training, parents working from home, school fees, computer availability at homes, internet connectivity. The list is endless. Adequate thought needs to go into both effective strategy and efficient implementation.
The ideal situation would be a seamless transition. From a largely teacher-driven learning environment in a school setting to a largely self-driven learning experience at a home setting. Given the challenging situation, this is a tall order. All the stakeholders are already walking a tight rope.
The grown-ups in the learning ecosystem need to work together to ensure that the students sail through the changes as smoothly as possible. It is not just about adaptability; it is also about the message we convey to our children. Resilience is a fundamental skill; every generation needs to build it. A global pandemic that has cruelly leveled the playing field is the perfect opportunity to embody resilience. It is also a brilliant opportunity to model sensible behaviour and gain our children’s respect.
Achieving a balance
I have heard about one persistent challenge, from both teachers and parents. This is the lack of children’s interest in writing. Children look at writing as a boring chore, something that they are forced to do. A balance of rigour and fun would work well here. If the writing activity includes something that captures their interest, they will be more invested in doing it. Also, it helps if the homework assignments are fun activities to break the monotony and strain of classes in front of a screen. That said, a balance of structured and unstructured activities will help in developing children’s writing skills.
This is also an opportunity for parents to engage in the learning process of the child. Parents could create a daily schedule of learning, home chores, and playtime. Reading any book of their choice should be part of this schedule, followed by a directed writing activity. It is one thing to encourage children to make independent choices, it is another thing to instill discipline in them. Both are necessary and important. Left to themselves, children would skip reading and writing completely. New normal can also mean new rules of learning.
Given the unprecedented times, we are in, we need to support each other to sail through the storm. Our children’s well-being is at stake here, the highest there can be. School management, teachers, and parents should work together to create a reasonably good learning environment for children. This new normal has compelled us to reexamine our lives as a whole. As we do this for our children, undoubtedly, we will emerge on the other side with rich learning experiences of our own.