It was in April that we heard about ‘online classes’ for the first time, and we thought it would only last a few days. I assure you, a day prior to our first online class, we were very excited to see each other; not that we did not have video calls, but this was the first time with the entire class at once. In the days to come, the cameras started to be kept turned off, the excitement diminished and the family group’s ‘good morning’ messages were replaced by class groups’ meeting links and invitations.
We had our hopes high in the thought we will be back in school soon and will enjoy the last year of ‘school life’. Now that I think of it, I laugh at it. Poor us! I realise, much like animals in a zoo, we might dislike our present circumstances but due to lack of alternatives, we are compelled to accept it — either with a smile or a frown.
The digital distraction
The virtual class system is certainly quite tough, but it has its own perks. We no longer have to put our heads down and whisper, write messages in a notebook or ask our neighbours to pass on a message. That is primitive and boring. Technology has made it easier. We are only a text away from a good chat. This despite being a good anecdote to share with my children or grandchildren in the future, is unquestionably a major distraction presently.
Smart phones have irked Indian mothers for years, since they are supposedly the root of all problems. They continue to be blamed for the same even now. However, there is a difference. Earlier we could just turn the phone off and focus on our studies, but we can no longer do the same. Assignments are in that device now. Once again, a text is all that it takes to divert the mind. Ultimately, it accumulates and hampers academic performance, leading to another series of mentally discouraging thoughts, if not problems.
Positive peer pressure
Following a regular chat with peers, I understood that it is our downgraded academic performance that is making us anxious about our upcoming board exams. This is obvious, especially because of the unfortunate priority that examination grades received over other skills and accomplishments. The pressure is accompanied by lack of motivation and competition as well. I will explain how.
At school, when a friend studies, others develop a mind of healthy competition which acts as a motivating tool. However, in virtual classes, this is entirely missed. Often after solving a sum for half an hour, when the balance sheet doesn’t tally repeatedly, we are irritated and we take a five-minute break that lasts forever. The challenge is greater for students like us, hailing from a residential school, who are solely dependent upon classroom learning and not multiple private tutors.
I remember when we were in physical classrooms and wrote a three-hour long paper, our hands would ache. It was at this moment that I often remarked, “I wish we could just type out our answers. Our typing speed is definitely faster.” God was attentive. He listened. Today we get to type out answers and we realise how negatively it affects us. Exams have ceased to inflict the positive pressure that they once did, which also compelled us to learn every concept. Nowadays, WhatsApp is providing free delivery of answers. Controlling the temptation is not easy for all, we know.
At times, a few kind teachers would treat us with his or her share of biscuits during exams, but now we can always sit with a packet of chips and a cold drink during exams. I do miss stating, “I will report to the washroom after the first bell. The moment you hear the door bang, come out!” or may be putting up an act to recall answers when the invigilator caught me during an unsuccessful attempt at ‘hall collection’.
Blessing in disguise
I have mentioned about the various well-known yet little addressed challenges that we face, but what I did not admit is the fact that these are not mere challenges but important experiential learning. As mentioned, our ‘no tuition policy’ does not put a tremendous load on assignments; therefore, we learn to take responsibility for the academic part. Over the months, we learnt how to keep ourselves focused during class, take notes and be self-conscious about our activities and study schedule. Besides this, in case we perform well in tests by fair means, the level of satisfaction is much higher. This, I feel, prepares us for the bigger world that we are going to be a part of within a few months.
The new technology-dependent world has made it clear that it is going to be the future. Virtual meetings and ‘work from home’ is now the future for jobs where remote working is feasible. They provide comfort, wider networking and are economical and time-saving too. Even virtual meetings require a set of skills and etiquettes. Our seniors and teachers might have learnt these etiquettes and acquired the skills at their graduation level or on-the-job, but we have imbibed them well before completing high school. We clearly have an edge here.
In the absence of sports and games, many of us have gained weight. We have received ample physical rest now although the same is not true for the mind. Online classes are mentally tiring beyond question. At times, we are so exhausted and tired that we fail to concentrate during classes. In fact, I was once so weary of it that I had to take a day-long break, immediately after the weekend break. This weariness is often accompanied by eye burns and headaches.
We do get the liberty to turn the camera off and look away; while the teachers’ job is even tougher here. They speak while continuously gazing at the screen. I do feel for my peers who have tuition to attend. It is all the more tiring for them to first attend classes, then attend tuitions and meet assignment deadlines at the same time. On the same right, it does seem complacent on my part to even complain of online classes, because we are fortunate enough to enjoy access to it. Children in rural government schools, meanwhile, have not been able to partake in online learning. This only widens existing inequalities, when it comes to access to education.
Parents and teachers
If we wish to bunk, we no longer need a proxy to maintain the attendance. We can simply join the class, disconnect the audio, Netflix and chill. Better yet, “Network issues, teacher.” But this lack of active participation in class does make it difficult for our teachers, who often sense that they are speaking to themselves. Many a time, students do not interact, leading to a communication failure or gap. This however has a very simple solution: Interact! If we start interacting in the class, it will be beneficial for all. We will be able to be attentive and teachers will be able to teach more effectively. Funny, how the teachers who would ask us to “be quiet” now tell us to “speak”.
Parents are no less anxious. With job losses and business downturns, the already burdened parents are now even more tense when they think about their child’s academic performance. After all, not every child can benefit from online classes.
Eager to return to school
The online learning experience has helped me snap funny pictures of my friends, and several realisations have dawned upon me in the process. If I have to sum up my musings, I will say the key problem here is with the lack of focus. The simple solution is to interact. This alone solves the bulk of challenges.
Even though we have now familiarised ourselves with the ‘new normal’, we are eagerly waiting to return to actual school. We’d never anticipated that this was how we will spend our final school year. All that we can hope for now is to not have to attend an online graduation ceremony. Touchwood!