In Part 1 of this series, we found that online education in public schools is largely limited to WhatsApp messages and many kids cannot even access them. On the other end of the spectrum are well-established, high-end private schools that have also been providing online classes since the start of the pandemic. In Part 2, we find out if they made e-learning effective.
Aparna Hariharan runs math and science classes for grades 5-10 students studying in private schools. She says her workload has multiplied since COVID. Her students say the program was covered at school, but she finds that they did not understand it. So she has to work a lot more than usual to get them to understand the concepts. The cumulative learning gap can get worse, she says, with an example: “In 8th standard, students have to apply concepts learned in 7th standard, but they forgot what they learned in 7th” .
Meetu Sehgal, who teaches Hindi classes, says his students’ parents are unhappy with online classes at school. Its students come from private schools and international schools established in Bangalore.
These teachers seem to understand the shortcomings of online courses.
In online lessons, Aparna points out, children only listen to the teacher in a relaxed manner. Unlike before, the children do not take notes, which would allow better understanding. In fact, they have difficulty writing during online classes, she says.
In addition, although teachers give homework, the number of homework is less, she notes. “If the kids took 25 sums earlier, now they’re only 10-15. Since the number of school hours is less than before, they also finish portions very quickly.
Plus, with multiple-choice questions in exams – as opposed to descriptive questions – students don’t have to think about concepts while answering them, Aparna points out.
Educators also point out that in an online course, the teacher would have a hard time observing children and determining how well they understood the concepts, unlike in a physical course. Children are also unable to discuss and learn from their peers.
Understanding these shortcomings, Meetu – who has transitioned comfortably to online courses – adopts a few rules. She organizes lessons in small groups so that every child receives attention. In his lessons, students must always be filmed and not silent. They should also write notes and send them to Meetu throughout the course. For homework, they should write descriptive answers.
Harder on young children
A first-grade teacher at a well-established private school that deals with core subjects says things are looking better this year. Last year, the school mainly sent recorded videos to students. This year, they’ve gone entirely online. Apparently only 20-30% of children now use smartphones; the rest have laptops or iPads.
However, significant learning gaps exist, she says. And teachers are working a lot harder to correct them. “Last year, in higher KG, they should have learned to read, to frame basic sentences, basic concepts in mathematics like addition / subtraction. But they didn’t. For example, she organizes individual and group activity sessions – which are fun-focused – every afternoon, to help them catch up. The regular program is taught in the morning.
This year the class is divided into two groups of 18 children each, so that the pupils receive better attention. Each group has a two hour lesson in the morning. Before that, children have half an hour to chat / socialize with other children. Afternoon sessions are organized so that each child receives at least one individual session or one group session each week.
She also had to change her teaching method: “In physical classes, I am used to giving PowerPoint presentations or demonstrating using objects. But it doesn’t work online because young children get distracted very quickly. So every night I have to plan a game or activity for the next day’s class.
Despite all the extra efforts, online classes are not a substitute for physical classes, explains the teacher. Children lack peer learning, emotional development, and life skills. When the school reopens – it is not expected to reopen this year – she expects a lag in learning levels and life skills. “So there will be more work to do,” she said.
Read more: The Reality of Online Learning in Bengaluru Public Schools
Private schools do not seem to have solved the issue of online education either. But in this case, parents, schools and private guardians have the resources and flexibility to fill the gaps in teaching and learning; quite different from the situation in public schools and private schools on a low budget.
Special children, specific challenges
For children with learning or developmental disabilities, online courses pose specific challenges. Specialist educator Elora Ghosh continued the classes, now online, for children with disabilities such as dyslexia and ADHD. They come from high-income families, but were not admitted to private schools due to their special needs. They attend school courses in order to gradually enter mainstream education.
Elora is tutoring her students, which means she can tell whether the student is paying attention to her or not. “But they already have attention issues, so it’s getting harder to maintain their attention online. During physical classes, I don’t just talk, I draw graphics, demonstrate concepts using objects, etc. But that is not possible online and my students understand very little what I am talking about, ”she admits.
Elora’s students already have learning gaps from not being able to learn the basics in smaller classes. It is more difficult to fill these gaps in the online format. Another problem is that her students need more emotional support, which is difficult to provide in the absence of direct interaction.
Smoother transition for some
Rashmi Mishra, science mentor for upper and upper primary grades at GEAR Innovative International School, explains that the transition to online courses went relatively well as the school was already using technology: “Our school already had smart (interactive) boards and internet use. ; we used to show students videos or simulations on smart boards.
However, the development of a new teaching methodology took a lot of effort last year, especially as the school emphasizes activity-based learning. But in the new format, there was no lab, no resources, and the environment was totally different.
“Then I started to think about the resources that were readily available in everyone’s house. For example, when I start talking about volume and pitch intensity, they start looking for musical instruments in their homes. We are starting to benefit from it, ”says Rashmi. This – the children themselves bring resources from their surroundings and share their ideas and thoughts – could be a benefit of online learning, she adds.
However, there are problems. The mentors’ preparation time is still quite high as the courses have to be adapted to the online system. They found kids submitting similar homework answers, which meant they could copy answers from the internet. “So we replaced direct questions with ‘reflective questions’,” says Rashmi. “Also, sometimes older kids don’t turn on the cameras and say there are technical issues. If we get this response on a regular basis, we contact the parent to see if the issue is real. “
Sarvesh Srinivasan, director of the GEAR Foundation, says their assessment shows no drastic drop in learning levels among their students, especially those in the upper grades. It is the youngest who need attention. “We plan to wait until their return and see how things go. We need to see which areas of interest they lost and where we need to spend more time. Then we need to make a plan for the next two years for them to catch up. Each child will need a specific type of support, ”explains Sarvesh.
It is not yet known how long the tuition will stay online. But until it does, in the absence of an online education policy, improvisation and initiative on the part of schools seems to hold the key to children’s learning.