Devi Kar | Schooling after Covid-19: What appears normal is not always so
Deccan Chronicle.| Devi Kar
Almost two years of disuse has led to multiple problems of different kinds
We will perhaps never regain the normality that we were used to before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, but children have to get back to the rhythm of school life. (Representational Image/ PTI)
It has taken me quite a while to understand that what appears to be normal is not always so. After the first wave of excitement had died down on returning to a full school after a long gap due to Covid-19, it began dawning on us that things were not quite like the pre-pandemic times. Yes, it was simply wonderful to hear the children’s chatter and laughter and to see that the playground was alive once again. Apart from the masked faces, only a few tell-tale signs remained to remind us of what we had all been through. But as the days passed, we realised that we were facing a strange and sombre reality.
The concrete and visible changes are easy to identify. Our beautiful school is looking somewhat run down — it certainly needs a fresh coat of paint. The "shine" seems to have disappeared from our immediate surroundings and even the hitherto gleaming floors are looking dull. Almost two years of disuse has led to multiple problems of different kinds. The ceiling fans and air-conditioners are malfunctioning, the electronic devices and CCTVs need to be replaced and even the plumbing needs to be replaced in parts. Only the garden looks even lovelier than ever because it had been looked after meticulously right through the Covid-19 pandemic period. The grass looks velvety and is a vibrant green for the moment. We know that the emerald carpet will soon be pock-marked with dusty patches as a result of trampling by hundreds of pairs of feet combined with the heat of the harsh summer sun.
But the real change is actually to be found in our students. In physical terms, many of them have put on weight and most appear to be far less energetic and fit. Like our floors and furniture, those attending school appear to have lost some of their lustre. The enthusiasm to do new things is tinged with a kind of hesitancy, and gradually we realised that our children have changed in many ways.
Before sitting down to write this piece, I spoke to teachers who teach at different levels. At the primary and middle school levels, it has been observed that students become fatigued before the end of the school day. It has also become clear to the teacher that most children are unable to focus or give their full concentration to the topic at hand. Their attention span has indeed been affected.
Teachers feel that this is a result of losing the habit of attending a full school day. During online classes it was possible for older students to reach out for a snack or wander about for a bit in the middle of a lesson by switching off their cameras. I am sure it was a delicious feeling to be able to "mute" the teacher in the middle of a boring lecture. For the younger ones, the need for rationed screen time ensured that they were not subjected to long stretches of instructional hours. They attended their classes in the comfort of home with a parent or guardian assisting them.
Students, in general, have become too used to the creature comforts that are available in many of their homes and have become averse to the rigorous discipline maintained in school, where they have to eat at specific times and remain inside the classroom for a specified period and pay attention to the topic being discussed.
Middle-school teachers feel that students in their department are finding it difficult to adjust to their peers. During the pandemic, we kept worrying about children spending days and months in isolation, without social interaction of any kind. We can now see that their social skills have been affected, and the easy camaraderie of pre-pandemic days is yet to return. Other skills that have been lost or rusted in middle school and primary students include handwriting, the simple ability to pack and unpack school bags and the physical agility that one associates with the young. Children who have missed the first two years of school have been especially badly hit. They do not seem to have the foundation on which formal schoolwork is based. Teachers say that they have to, in some areas, start from "the beginning" all over again. In other words, children across all levels have to be helped to learn to unlearn and then relearn. It is true that nothing remains the same forever and change has to be accepted. We will perhaps never regain the normality that we were used to before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, but children have to get back to the rhythm of school life.
While we struggle to make up for what has been lost, we are also determined not to lose the gains of the last two years. We teachers intend to keep building on our newly acquired technological knowledge and skills that we were compelled to attain in order to run our schools during the pandemic. We will continue to use all the available virtual facilities to communicate, hold meetings and conferences and events. Also, if there is another wave of the pandemic in the near future, the transition to online classes will definitely be much smoother. But let us hope and pray that it won’t be necessary.
The writer is a veteran school educator based in Kolkata