As the pandemic unravelled around the world, most families retreated to their homes and shut themselves in. Businesses stopped functioning, people stopped travelling and children stopped attending schools. The world, as we knew it, stopped turning on its axis and stood still. The potential economic impact of this lockdown was undercut by the number of lives that were lost and the collective emotional toll caused by grief. Doctors, nurses and other front-line workers toiled day-in and day-out to ensure that this grief was felt by as few families as possible.?
During this time, there was another cadre in our country that was tasked with the impossible – our school teachers. In an already uncertain time, teachers were handed the responsibility of keeping students engaged and happy during their time away from school. Economists had already started calculating the cost in future earnings caused by the closure of schools for a year. A recent World Bank report estimated India’s loss to be close to USD 400 billion due to this shutdown.
This was before a few teachers paved the way and hinted at some resistance towards this alarming estimation. They took to learning their laptops and smartphones to figure out ways to creatively conduct their classes online. Some teachers learnt how to use fun and interactive tools on Zoom/ Teams, others started conducting online quizzes for their students and some even experimented with introducing AI bots as classroom assistants. In doing so, teachers began to tinker around with technology to empower themselves and in turn – expand the scope of the traditional classroom experience.?
These efforts were also supported by the newly released National Education Policy that emphasized an innovative use of digital education and tools. While issues of connectivity in remote areas persisted, there was inspiration to be found in the commendable and innumerable efforts made by teachers to reach out to their children. Thanks to the policy, a few teachers could leverage an existing ICT infrastructure to experiment with the online mode of education and begin to implement digital solutions for the classrooms. As challenging as this year has been for most, we should look at the bright side and consider the many advantages of digitizing our education space.
Research has shown us that the use of interactive digital tools and platforms improves classroom engagement and aids the student learning process by infusing it with creativity. Tools like Adobe Spark, Canva and DeepArt can be used to enhance traditional teaching materials to interesting infographics, posters and videos. There are a lot of free resources on the platforms like IBM SkillsBuild for educators & teachers and can be used to grow Artificial Intelligence and many other digital proficiency skills. Microsoft Education Transformation Framework (ETF) is a holistic and effective guide for leaders in education to navigate the complexity of transformation.
Now that a few teachers have begun to transition and work in tandem with technology, others can start following suit. A few model teachers can begin by showcasing and documenting their experiences on a platform dedicated to recognizing these “silent warriors”. This will serve to spark a culture of exchange and engagement across state and national borders.
However, what is most important is to ensure that these practices begin to trickle down to India’s rural and semi-urban schools. We cannot afford to leave them behind during this pandemic; creating this network of teachers will provide teachers from these areas with inspiration and support. Sparking their imagination is enough, the technical skills and issues of “how can I use this tool” are small-fish and will be dealt with in time. If there is one thing that this pandemic has shown us, it is that teachers are even quicker learners than some of their best students. If they put their mind to something, they can get it done in far more innovative ways than even we could fathom. This is why triggering a change in their mindset and their behaviour towards technology is so important. ?
The pandemic did not cause as much as expose a few cracks in our education system. It simultaneously presented us with the opportunity to expedite processes to fill in those gaps. India’s learning poverty has to be urgently addressed. This starts, firstly, by recognizing teachers as the warriors that they are and giving them their due importance. Secondly, we need to start piloting and testing digital solutions for the classroom with a special focus on whether these can be scaled to suit our rural and semi-urban schools. Thirdly, and lastly, we need to start creating platforms that allow teachers from across states to connect with each other and share best practices. It is not just the lives of our children that are in our teacher’s hands. In some ways, it is also the lives of our future economy and country. Let us not forget about their contributions during this past year, and let us think of ways to take their vision forward.