Our foremost priority during these horrifying days of the pandemic is, how to provide education to our children even while keeping them safe and protected. Closure of all educational institutions for a long time is disturbing students, and the uncertainty of the situation has made them nervous to a great deal (for example, in the recent question of the cancellation of the 12th boards, an announcement that took a long time to come). While ‘online education’ had some novelty value at the beginning, and certainly has some benefits, as a long time practice, it has its drawbacks as well.

Given the economic condition of most of the Indian population, it is often difficult to have even the basic necessities of life, let alone advanced Android phones, tablets with internet facilities and unlimited data packages. Many families simply cannot afford it; but the fear of their children getting cut off from their studies and their peers was felt deeply. Many parents have even gone into debt trying to procure phones for their children. There have been tragic cases of suicides of students and parents due to lack of such technology.

A shift
However, efforts have been made on some fronts. At first, it was not very easy for all educational institutions to make online classes available to students, but with some effort and in-service training to teachers, a breakthrough was made across the country to reach out to students everywhere. Thankfully for learners, teachers and educators took upon their shoulders the responsibility of equipping themselves to furnish the immediate needs by developing their skills. A massive transformation has taken place in the COVID-19 era. It is true that technology cannot replace a teacher but a teacher who uses technology is more successful during this turbulent period.

Using online tools to teach remotely to students in real time is not easy and delivering learning materials in interesting ways needs a well-developed mechanism which may not be available to all. Hence, to deliver remote pedagogy and learning effectively, significant support to teachers for standardization and development has to be provided immediately.

What can be better than enabling teachers to acquire the working know-how of available tools so that they can become inclusive, and utilize technological skills to improve their classroom deliverance? It is also essential for them to shape a collaborative atmosphere in virtual classrooms, which can spell out creativity, motivation and engagement for learners. Otherwise, online classes can easily fail to attract or even contain the attention of the majority of those attending them. Naturally, it requires a lot of patience, hard work, and training in emotional intelligence and leadership. Also, continuous professional development can lead to innovative ideas and creative engagement which can be fulfilling to both learner and teacher. Participatory approach can also help learners with specific needs and make them feel included. Expertise may differ from teacher to teacher, but the perspective should be adaptive so that investigations may provide a wider arena for discussion.

The problems faced
Students, however, are facing other kinds of problems. The adversity which confronts them during this pandemic is quite a unique one, such for which they were not ready at all, or we may say, they had not even imagined in their wildest of dreams. They were actually caught unawares and the severe toll it has had on their psyche can be described as catastrophic. They have been shattered, some have lost their emotional balance and others have slipped into depression and anxiety of various forms.

Many students, especially younger ones were unable to grapple with the concept of lockdowns and school shutdowns. At first, it seemed like a long holiday. . . No need to rise up early, no need to slog for homework, or to get ready on time etc. For higher education level students, there wasn’t much to be happy about. After a few months, the closure became monotonous and when some more time passed, it got unbearable. Students started missing their friends, games, physical and social activities. When online classes started, they became eager to attend but then there were problems awaiting them there too. What about availability? Many students had to forgo it just because they or their parents couldn’t make their two ends meet. Others found the home environment too noisy or incompatible to concentrate on their ongoing classes. Virtual contact is not comforting to many and they tend to get headaches or blurred vision if they are on their computer or mobile for a long time. But the hopeful thing about the online classes is that shy students feel more at ease to communicate through their chat boxes.

School education cannot be replaced by online mode, and teachers have to be extra careful while teaching through it. They have to chalk out a clear-cut picture of how to make this process meaningful. Are they giving students innovative ideas that make life more meaningful? Can students apply those ideas to real life? If these areas are addressed, online classes can become connected with reality. Students also have to remember that their skills and knowledge counts far more than grades in exams. Online assessment is a difficult job, but when students cooperate, the teacher also is enabled to make an objective assessment based on impartiality and neutrality.

For teachers assessing students, they must set up questions that require brainstorming. They can even opt for portfolio assessment, where students create something based on their learning and understanding. Whether at school or college level, portfolio assessment encourages students to apply = what they have learned in a practical way. This assessment, however, is easily applicable to science subjects but there does not seem to be any significant way to assess humanities and social science groups.

Training is essential for making it easier for both student and teacher to handle the online platform. Taking matters as they stand today, we can safely say that online teaching and learning methods have saved our children to a great extent. Of course, as necessity is the mother of invention, we will keep discovering better ways. We must pray for restoration of normalcy, so that our children maintain healthy attitudes towards the challenges of life.