My recent visits to a couple of schools after their reopening has gravitated my attention to some of the impending challenges the schools are facing currently. The fact that the schools had remained closed for two years from their routine has derailed some of the most essential components required for an effective learning environment. Any argument that learning has still been taking place enabling them to appear for the standardized examinations, does not take stock of the several missing links that are integral to the process of education. While technology has functioned an excellent filler of time and process, it has played only the role of an emergency unit of a health clinic.
What are the challenges that need to be addressed?
1. The emotional profile of the learners.
The students have stayed for too long a period at home chained to an alternate model, whether they liked it or not. Their current movement from restriction of space, time, and processes to a much freer environment in school does bring a need for re-engineering their psyche. Reports of children getting back to the school with a complete misunderstanding of the idea of freedom is just an expected reaction. There are reports of aggressive behaviors, violence, arbitrariness in their approach, absence of focus and incompatibility with the reversal of the process. It will indeed take time and effort for any school team to reset them to norms and fall in line with the prescribed guidelines of the schools.
The teachers and the school would need a lot of patience, understanding and effort to achieve this, and it may take a couple of months.
2. Bridging the curricular gap
There is evidence of curricular gap among the learners in all stages. Though people do argue that a lot of informal and incidental learning has taken place which are non-routine, and such experiential learning would certainly favor them with some specific life skills, it does not fill the gap that has been caused in transactional curriculum which is formal. The impact of this both on a short=term and long-term learning and behavioral patterns would indeed be a matter of interest for the researchers.
Schools make though sporadic efforts to engage with this issue by providing learning materials and resources for self-learning, they are more like fast food that do not provide adequate nutrition The gap can be filled only over a period by integrating missing links with the on-going content as a curtain raiser to a pending show.
3. The pedagogical conflicts
To fight the battle with online learning, teachers have been adopting a few strategies which were not authentic, which had an extremely limited outreach, and which facilitated the completion of a performance rather than ensuring the quality of the performance of the teacher. The methods adopted by so e some teachers indicated a delivery system akin to a postal service to deliver the information. The responsibility for the learning environment, the learning strategy, the learning efficiency, and its effectiveness could not be fixed on anyone. The pedagogy for a hybrid learning needs intensive preparation and unfortunately there are no standard and research based authentic inputs available to manage the situation The intensive market play prescribing several patterns have thrilled the audience for a brief time but do not appear to have a good shelf-life.
In a few schools, the retention of teachers became a problem because of the pandemic, and they had to adopt a quick fix approach to have someone who could be physical present to bridge the gap instead of people who are well trained to do the job. Further, too many suggestions for reforms consequent to the NEP put pressure, enhanced the level of uncertainty, and caused confusion. Absence of clarity about the current dynamics and future possibilities forced schools to just keep going than frame a structure to do what must be done.
4. The Teacher fatigue
Though teachers started meeting the challenges with enthusiasm, an air of uncertainty made them to tread on a safer path. Movement for a more informal mode of a non-routine system with constraints of time and space did impact their hormone levels The levels of uncertainty forced them to engage with a variety of online training programs which over a period caused both an intellectual and emotional fatigue. The programs became more a ceremony to participate than a learning platform.
5. Assessment issues
There was a huge mismatch between the curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment. Though the assessments were conducted with the help of technology, the methods lacked quality, accountability and credibility at all levels. The rewards for performance were not reflective of the factual status of learning. The tools used for assessment were just patchy and did not hold to some basic standards required for a systemic consideration. The rewards on assessment were influenced by more by compassion and the need for a social consciousness rather than strong academic credibility.
With the schools reopening the impact of faulty assessments of the previous years are showing their negative impact. Schools are strongly convinced about bridge courses to put the learners on the right track.
6. Leadership issues
School leaders have been navigating the school through a chaos. The communication patterns with the staff, the quality of effective relationship with an operating team have become fragile. Some leaders do feal either they must reinvent themselves or re-engineer the relationship management practices sooner than later. With several institutions not paying the teachers for two years with cut in salaries or delayed payments, the teachers’ motivational level has been impacted. Many of them have yielded to self-pity/ School leaders would find it difficult to put in place the team with energy, spirt, enthusiasm and commitment.
In short, the rehabilitation of schools to their earlier status or to give them a vision to move towards a futuristic perspective with existing inadequacies appears a challenging task.