The winds of confidence appear to be blowing. Talks are already on, about the possibility of reopening the schools for the primary children after nearly 500 days. The health experts have sent some positive signals for taking considered decisions. May be, the actions will follow depending on the local contexts, preparedness and safety of the system and the people who are the stakeholders of the system. The schools have also started feeling the need to get back to normalcy before it is too late. However, in many places, there is a divided opinion among the parents and such opinions are also often biased resultant to personal choices.
When the stage is set for the gateways to open, the school heads might have to take cautious steps, rather doubly cautious, so that none of their decisions or procedures, gravitates criticism. All care has to be taken to ensure that the curiosity of the school leaders to put the system in place in an excessive accelerated mode doesn't backfire, but yields positive and intended results. They have to possibly shelve for some time the extra efforts to parade to the community that they are as healthy as they were in the pre-pandemic scenario. For a few months, the primary schools need to address the following issues with tact, diplomacy, informality and in a subtle manner.
1. RELIEVING ANXIETY
Most children coming back to school will experience a sense of novelty in the air they breathe in the school. They would have some mixed feelings soaked in fear, anxiety, doubt, suspicion and solitude. Their long stay at home for several months and the disconnect they have had from institutionalized dynamics and organized activities would give them some anxiety while trying to cope with normalcy. Teachers need to understand, and hence design and implement, some fun-filled exercises which will clear the clouds of anxiety. The time taken by the individual child in restoration to the pre-pandemic levels of behavior might vary; hence schools or teachers should not expect equity in responses from the young children. Counsellors would do well to offer some anxiety management exercises for the primary children; and to train the teachers to make them a part of the regular learning environment.
2. BUILDING CONFIDENCE
Due to long periods of isolation at home and experiencing loneliness consequent to the social compulsions arising out of covid, the students might be suffering from some latent helplessness, inadequacy, low self-esteem, self-pity and thus their confidence profile about their competencies might have touched a low ebb. It is important to help them to restore their confidence profiles Learning inputs that tend to build their confidence, esteem, self-respect and self-organization have to become integral to their learning content and learning environment. Exercises in confidence building will help both in building personal profiles and social profiles that would neutralize the loss accrued during covid times. This psychological re-engineering would help them to get back to their normal state of self-awareness.
3. ENSURING CONTINUITY
The loss of learning, it appears, is substantial. There are no magic wands to turn the tables overnight and ensure that the learners would learn all they have missed. It would not only take time, but help and well organized and articulated inputs. However, it has to be done. One cannot leave the gap and start at a different point, as it might have a long-term impact rather than an immediate impact. The argument that they will learn the same over a period is, of course, valid; but it will be more of a patch work rather than an integral building exercise. Hence, the schools need to put in place a kind of bridge exercise to cover the cognitive, affective and psycho-motor experiences. This would help ingestion of knowledge for a healthy profile sooner than later. Teams of teachers, in consultation with counsellors, would share their inputs to define the parameters and structure of such inputs, which would be diverse, inter-disciplinary, informal and stress-free.
4. FACILITATING RELATIONSHIPS
Relationships have suffered significantly during the covid times. At home, gloomy scenario arising out of the impact of covid, for reasons of health, finances, loss of work and disruption of normal routines have made people to reset priorities. Physical separation, isolation and segregation have led to emotional disquiet or emotional blandness among people. Children had several roadblocks in connecting with their peers either due to social distancing procedures or ban on such outdoor experiences. This has negatively impacted shared experiences and learning, empathy, belief structures and created disillusionment in trust systems. Schools will have to work in repositioning such relationships through cognitive and affective domain exercises. These interventions need not be based on curricular objectives but could be also be interwoven with informal methods synergizing school time with home time.
5. ENGAGING WITH PLAY
The term ‘Play’ needs to be considered in a broader sense. It doesn’t necessarily mean physical engagement with any learning game. However, ‘gamification’ of learning is an interesting way of reducing stress in learning. It enhances informality, cordiality and comfort level among the learners. It improves ownership with the conceptual dynamics of the play and triggers the curiosity for participation, engagement and achievement. It promotes the ‘sportsmanship’ in dealing with the objectives of learning, especially when the higher order thinking skills are involved in the learning. It facilitates ‘out of box thinking’ and supports entrepreneurial approach to learning and performance. It relieves the myth and illusions associated with the concepts. School teams should plan well in advance to articulate the concepts, skills and application in a ‘play-mode’ so that the fear of learning is relieved. Teachers of the primary classes need to adopt to a new mindset soon.
6. BRIDGING HOME-SCHOOL ENVIRONMENT
The change over from the home environment to the school environment after a long interval would need a slow and smooth transition. Teachers would certainly find some level of unpreparedness among the students. This transition has to be handled with a bit of sensitivity by articulating content and skills that would help bridging both experiences. ‘Informalization of formal learning’ would help to achieve this end. As such inputs of ‘experiential learning’ that helps to bring ‘home experiences’ to the classroom and to take away ‘classroom experiences’ to home would scaffold effective and stress -free learning. As such, ‘flipped classroom’ models might help to bring reinforce learning, but an ‘overdose’ of flipping might also be defeating the purpose. Bridging home-school experiences will help in enhancing emotional comfort levels in the current scenario and help to diffuse issues arising out of identity challenges.
7. CELEBRATING LIFE
The focus of education is to understand life in its multifaceted dimensions. The thrust on ‘happiness curriculum’ in recent days is to lead to this awareness that more things exist beyond certificates and achievements. Understanding, appreciating and celebrating life in its entirety and in its spectral view has to be the core output of schooling. Teachers and schools should design the curricula of the school and its related strategies to create this environment of happiness, so that some of the ‘take-aways’ from the school will help the learners to build and celebrate their life. A paradigm shift from competition to constructivist learning through connected universe of knowledge would be the key to the future. The covid experiences have taught us some lessons in this direction. Schools need to invest on the opportunities available now for a meaningful transformation.