Just as schools and colleges had slowly started moving back into routine classes, even as they continued to struggle with the sharp shift into online education sparked by the advent of the pandemic last year, the second COVID-19 wave has made its presence felt. Now, with institutes shut once more, the quality of education meted out to the current generation is being brought into question. Moreover, the hit taken by the academic sector at large has had a ripple effect on a slew of other dependent verticals, leading to several people losing their jobs and others being forced to grapple with the minimal resources they have at hand, just to survive
With a year of the online classroom experience under their belts now, teachers, students, and their parents alike are clear that nothing can replace the actual classroom experience, no matter what techniques are used. A special educator at CSE, Rewachand Bhojwani Academy, 27-year-old Neeti Pherwani (above) said online education has been more tiring than anything else. “There are quite a few variables that really disrupt online sessions. Background sounds or internet issues that cause video and audio lag are very distracting for students; sometimes a whole session is lost. If we need to continue working like this, we definitely need better infrastructure in place for students and educators,” she said. Pherwani added that special needs children/schools were left out of all pandemic standard operating protocols (SOPs) from the authorities. “Some online work is doable, but many of these kids need behavioral or communication therapy, which cannot be done this way. There needs to be some provision allowing them to visit schools individually at least on a schedule,” she added. Attesting to this, mother-of-two Swati Navgire says that while her 16-year-old managed, her 10-year-old required more assistance. “My younger son is in a Marathi medium school and did not have online classes. But his teachers gave homework and videos for them to watch. As I work from home (WFH), I sat with him. But it has not been easy. It was only for the first few months that it was possible to get them to sit for studies. Soon, the home atmosphere felt like a prison for them, as they craved getting out and playing or meeting friends,” she narrated. Some teachers took it upon themselves to train and teach children who had no other means of learning, which they felt would help those with potential and less privilege. Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) teacher Suraj Kulkarni (below), who teaches Class X at Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Vidayala in Yerawada, shared, “Taking all precautions, I was able to give extra classes to needy students. They come from poor backgrounds and many have been working to help their parents run the household, as the pandemic struck them hard. Online learning was not feasible for them for various reasons.
Teachers who take tuitions from home were also forced to move online. Many lost students, who could either not afford extra classes anymore or didn’t see the point of them, said Swati Raut(below), a Sahakarnagar resident who teaches tuitions for classes I to XI. “From 16 students, mine dropped down to a handful. Most of them felt it was an added expense they could not manage. I used to earn well from this and this has impacted my finances, too,” she confessed. DESPERATE ALTERNATIVE JOBS From driving kids to school to selling watermelons in the same van, Trambak Lakha (below) is barely making ends meet now. While he used to earn over Rs 40,000 per month doing both tasks, it is now just Rs 150-200 per day. “I have a three-year-old daughter at home — now I have to think twice before buying milk for her. We have to choose which meal of the day we want to have because we can afford just one. My father and I both worked earlier, but since he is old, we decided that he stays in during the pandemic,” said a tearful Lakha.
Sachin Panchmukh, who ran eight buses, also said three meals a day and medicines have become a luxury today. “If this situation continues, we either have to all end our lives or move out of the city. Either way, we suffer. Parents of students, schools, the government or charitable trusts care to help us. Where do should we go?” asked Panchmukh. Prior to the pandemic, close to 6,000 buses, 10,000 vans and 10,000 rickshaws ferried kids to school. Almost all the service providers are now engaged otherwise. Another staff of educational institutions is also impacted. Sarvesh Jadhav (below) ran three canteens that all shut. He said, “The income from these canteens helped feed 25 families. How will they be compensated for this loss? I still have to pay for maintenance and electricity for the spaces. It will be like starting up all over again when this outbreak ends.”
SCHOOLS STRUGGLE TO STAY AFLOAT
Parents and schools have locked horns over fees since the start of the pandemic till today. But while claiming to understand the side of the parents, schools also said they cannot sustain their infrastructure anymore. Director of The Orchid School (below), Baner, Lakshmi Kumar, said they are dealing with significant uncertainty. “This entire period has been riddled with anxiety and economic distress — a challenge to one’s emotional wellbeing. The transition to online has not been easy for students or teachers with issues like internet bandwidth becoming big hurdles. Fortunately for us, parents have been supportive and we have managed to resolve fee issues individually, too,” she said.
LESSONS NOT LEARNT
Third-year law student Krushna Sathe believes online education takes away a lot from the learning experience. “The quality of education has deteriorated with the post-pandemic shift online. It is only as a formality that just lectures and exams are being conducted. What are we actually learning?” she said. Civil services aspirant Ajinkya Bhalerao, who is finding it difficult to focus on studies, echoed, “The health crisis has put our concentration on the back foot. Exams are delayed, lockdown abound and study schedules are very hampered. The pandemic also means personal losses, financial burdens and increased responsibilities, affecting the mental health of many. I have already lost a year.” For those who wish to study abroad, things took an equally dark twist. Neeraj Bhide, who had planned to fly to Canada last year, said, “I had applied for a visa in January 2020 and was supposed to travel in July. As per regular applications, my visa would have been approved by July 2020, but due to COVID, it was delayed. The university gave us the option to commence the degree online, but I saw no point. I had quit my well-paying job to fly abroad and study — but it all simply fell through in a matter of days.”