The online teaching due to the lockdown is a new experience for many students in the country. It has gone through many glitches due to lack of facilities, lack of expertise among teachers, and lack of exposure to the new medium devoid of collegiality, lack of interpersonal exchanges that people are used to in class room teaching. This has resulted in new stressors and tensions among teachers and students. Also mothers of young children are increasingly under tension due to the close monitoring needed from them. The wide differentials in socioeconomic status also became prominent during this process due to unaffordability of this media and the facilities. It is increasingly difficult for students from the marginalised sections to access this new technology although many state governments have announced concessions, free distribution of the devices as well as a form of collective access while adhering to pandemic norms.
The worse impact is the loss of collegiality, a term normally used to describe cooperative relationships between colleagues. I want to move beyond the dictionary meaning to a form of formal and informal mutuality between students and teachers which makes the whole process of learning a beautiful experience. Such collegiality plays an important role in shaping the students and their personality which cannot be possible in such a virtual world. Both students and teachers are involved in the act of learning and this is not possible or it may be face several imperfections when a degree of interactions get limited or constrained by the digital world. The teachers also have lost the power, the power to decide many things including a just and fair evaluation as their familiarity and assessments are limited to the virtual encounters. What could be conceivable in this new culture of pedagogy is an entire set or generation of students who can be called as the virtual products as we do not yet know or can declare with some level of confidence that this may end by such and such date.
The 1918 Influenza epidemic (also called erroneously as the Spanish Flu) lasted for nearly two years from February 1918 to April 1920. In many countries, there were acts of defiance to the measures imposed to control the pandemic. In the US especially where it is believed to have originated in the city of Kansas, people protested against the strict control measures similar to the ones implemented presently. Many such acts of defiance have been recorded. One such case is reported from the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, in the state of Minnesota. The school managements openly revolted against closure since it meant paying non-working teachers. For instance, one county board in the state of Minneapolis thought that the 12000 dollars a day which they had to bear due to the closing order was exorbitant. The problem of extra school days due to the closing was also cited as a reason. In one case, on the request of parent-teacher association, the school reopened only to be forcibly shut down due to police action.
In the present Pandemic as well, the situation is not different. The school closing here is also creating additional stressors for the parents and teachers in addition to the children. However, this may not be a homogenous process. The stressors could be exceptionally high in the pre-primary and primary education where familiarity with technology, behavioural patterns of the children, and the extra inputs required for maintaining attention of the children to the learning process become important. It is in this stage that the socialization process which happens during real world interactions becomes a primary determinant for learning social values and norms by direct observation. Students learn the art of interactions during the socialization process which takes place in the real school experience within the class room and in the play fields. The impacts of the new medium of technology and the virtual-real dichotomies are another by-product which could last for many years even after the pandemic disappears.
The teachers being considered as a formality to complete the learning process could probably emerge as one of the outcomes of this new pedagogy. A reverse evaluation could happen when teachers are constantly judged in a technological environment where both the learners and the teachers are not familiar with the new technology medium and that also with considerable imperfections such as availability of data, breaking signals, even disturbances etc. This could be extremely disastrous for the future academic environment in the world of learning. The relationships between the teacher and the student will end up as a ‘pizza delivery process’ or a form of ‘completing syndrom’e where the teacher as a delivery boy and even the student will end up somewhere on a 10-pont scale. This form of ‘finishing portion’ culture was already predominant in many schools and colleges and this new technological conduit in knowledge transfer could reinforce such a culture and it may be for the worse. This is especially so because of the disappearance of proper evaluation mechanisms or even formal examination processes.
It is certain that as the pandemic wanes may be in some months, these imperfections may last for many months. The 1918 pandemic lasted for two years and in the present era, even after so much technological advancements, we are unable to predict the course of events. But certainly, it is high time that both the national and state governments in the country should evolve a time line for future and that also scientifically with models and options rather than just announcing number of cases per day and taking pride in using police and security forces on controlling people’s lives.
(K. Rajasekharan Nayar is affiliated to Global Institute of Public Health and Santhigiri Research Foundation, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala)