Learning the online way: Experiences of a mother and teacher

The Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown that followed have changed the way we live our lives. For a large part of the workforce, work from home became a norm while for few, no work and unemployment became a glaring reality. Media, mostly off-beat and non-commercial ones, talked in detail about the repercussions on the migrant labourers, rising unemployment rates, rising taxes to balance increased public expenditure, etc. Some even talked about how it has increased burden on women, due to increased housework/care work with/without full-time jobs. The period also saw a rise in education technology (Ed-Tech) start-ups and various venture capitalists investing in a wide range of these Ed-Tech start-ups – after all, online education, including all sorts of online extra-curricular classes (from football to coding, from dance to language learning – you name it and online classes are now available for the same) became the only way out. But how is it being at the receiving end of online education? This blog does not talk about the pedagogical aspect of online education but uses examples of real stories to understand whether online education is really the way, even for the most technologically-elite urban population. Through this blog, I share my personal experience, as a mother and teacher, about online education in the pandemic times.


One would think that taking a post-graduate online class for a very small group (less than 20) students, all from urban India, with access to their smartphones/laptops, would be a cakewalk. Well, the reality is far from it. For starters, I was not prepared to look at blank screens of the students, talk to the void (all microphones being switched off due to background noise), and use only presentation slides to put my point across. At times, I felt that I was talking to myself. But, I was hoping against hope that these post-graduate students would be attentive (after all, they are committed enough to pursue their post-graduation) and responsive. My hopes began to crash after the first day as it became more and more evident that maybe, some of them were simply logged in for class for attendance but their minds were logged out. During one of the classes, I gave them some time to read an article and then discuss it. During the quiet time given for reading, one of the students unmuted herself and sounded worried, “Girls, did the class get over? Where is everyone?”. Without making a big deal out of it, I asked, “Where have you been?” and started laughing. We then had an open discussion about these online classes and almost everyone admitted that they check their phones (read: active on social media), go for meals as they usually get up right before class starts, browse the internet, or even take a nap. Continuous online classes are a drag, and they miss the interaction with their classmates. One of them said, “It is not that the classes are boring. It is just that there is just so much we can only listen. Anyways, the presentation and the recording are available. So, we can always go back to listen.” Another thing that they admitted was the amount of noise that comes during my class. I was surprised as I used to close my door and sit. It seems that despite the door being closed, they could still hear my kids yelling and playing in the living area. And then they said, “Don’t worry Ma’am, it happens in many classes. We know you are home and have kids.” This made me think about thousands of teachers who teach school students, have infrastructure handicaps, have never been trained to conduct online classes, don’t know how to handle students with their microphones and screens turned off and have parents monitor the class/examinations. Are those students really learning? What is it that they are learning? With parents hovering like a helicopter, schools have started finding alternate ways (e.g. oral examinations) to check the learning but isn’t it even more taxing for the teachers? Is this really the way? Well, if one were to believe the venture capitalists, then probably yes!! 


I was super thrilled when the Government of Karnataka took a stand and declined offline/online classes for elementary students. I was confident that the committee constituted to made recommendations would also support this. But, I guess, the private school lobby is bigger than I thought. Well, to cut a long story short, I was faced with offline videos for my 3 years old (yes, she was supposed to start Montessori in June 2020). The first video that came introduced them to the school and their classroom. I couldn’t understand why my daughter kept wanting to see this video and not the ones with activities/story etc., especially since we had kept her away from screen till now (no TV in her presence and a rare video on phone once in a while – her screen time only included video calls with grandparents and other family members). Videos kept coming every alternate day but she refused to see them – even the ones where the teacher is singing a nursery rhyme. Then, I stopped showing them to her. I started watching them and then teaching her the rhymes and made her do other activities. During a visit to the school, I requested the Principal to arrange for her visit to the school and experience the classroom. It took some time but they finally arranged it with a teacher. She spent an hour in her classroom, with her teacher while we waited outside. Initially, I could not hear her voice but slowly, she started singing and reciting the poems she knew. Later on, the teacher mentioned that she did some of the activities also. After that day, she started asking if her teachers sent any videos. Slowly, she started watching them regularly and even started enjoying them. Now, she also wants to do ‘homework’ like the rest of her building friends and talks about it proudly with them. Till she went to school and spent time in her classroom, she couldn’t imagine what is school, who are the teachers and why do I have to watch this video. With 30 minute online classes now, she gets excited to see her teachers and friends but within 15 minutes, she also gets restless and impatient as she has to sit in front of the laptop. After almost every class, she asks me when she can start going to school. A quick discussion with some other mothers made me realise that I wasn’t alone. Some schools insisted that the camera be pointed towards the notebook while the students did classwork, during the online class. Others wanted the parents to take a printout of worksheets and then submit them in school for correction. Almost all parents and their children wanted schools to reopen soon. There must be just so many students who would have felt the disconnect like my daughter. And there must be just so many students, for whom, school meant a chance to enjoy without worrying about care-work, an opportunity to be treated properly or simply be valued. Can online education, even for the urban elite, provide that? If not, then how can it be the way out for addressing issues in access and reach of education for the masses in the long run?

[Disclaimer: Views presented above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CBPS]

Puja Minni
Former Employee of CBPS

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