Teachers demand empathy, support in time of crisis

Teachers demand empathy, support, acknowledgement

Credit: AFP Photo

Over the past three months, most of the attention around Covid-19 and its impact on education has been focused on the travails of parents and students, while the role that teachers play in ensuring these educational outcomes has largely been taken for granted.

The learning curve of educators adapting?to online classes - both in schools and colleges - has been steep. Some of the challenges they are facing include the lack of adequate infrastructure to conduct classes, irregular payment by the management and near doubling of workload when it comes to providing education digitally.

Read: Uncertainty causes students to fear about their future

Swatee Jog, a college lecturer who teaches Management students in Belagavi, recently put down her thoughts in a Facebook post, calling for more empathy and support for teachers.

In the initial days, one of the basic limitations in conducting classes online was inadequate internet facilities, both for teachers and students. The video conference calls consumed a lot of internet data; providing attention to all students, crammed into tiles on a screen, also proved difficult. As a workaround, Swatee says, teachers took the help of tech-savvy students to record, edit, compress and upload the video clips of lessons online.

In Bengaluru, private institutions have moved various processes, including admission interviews, exams, as well as evaluations, online. Sahana Prasad, an Associate Professor at Christ who has been teaching for nearly 35 years, says she has adapted well to the new system.

“Most of us (teachers) are managing on our own. In the beginning, it was difficult. You know, sometimes, even understanding Google Calendar is a challenge. But now, I feel more comfortable.”

Private institutions like Christ have also implemented a bevy of technological solutions to move classes online.

Inequal access

Most students from private institutions have transitioned well to education online, in stark contrast to the situation in government colleges. As a general rule of thumb, the students in these government colleges generally come from low-income families; shifting all classes online presupposes access to a mobile phone or a data pack. Government College lecturers told DH?that many of their students often had just one mobile phone in the family.

“There is inequality. There are students who come from straitened circumstances. Some students cannot attend classes when their fathers take the mobile phones to work,” says Kishor, an associate professor at Maharani’s College in the city.

Another government college lecturer in Dharwad, recounts how some of his female students couldn’t attend online classes because they weren’t given mobile phones by male members of the family; another?Professor from Vijaya College?in Bengaluru says he personally recharged the data pack of a student so he could attend classes.

Kishor has been ensuring at least one hour of revision for his students since the lockdown was announced. “The students join the group for classes but we can’t really tell if they are present or are watching television or have gone to take a shower,” he says.

Keeping students engaged virtually has also been a task. Sahana says she focuses on giving students written assignments each day and keeps conducting quizzes online; Kishor calls out to students at random, to ensure that they are paying attention.

Classes might have shifted online, but questions over their efficacy remain. At a recent interaction with H A Ranganath, the former Vice-chancellor of Bangalore University, students of RC Commerce College?reportedly complained that they were unable to understand the lessons online and needed at least a month of blackboard teaching before the exams were held.

Teachers of technical subjects like Mathematics and Computer Science?admit to facing difficulties. “We are able to guide them in classes but online, they are not able to communicate properly,” says a government lecturer, requesting anonymity.

Online classes are one way for teachers to complete their pending portions on a fast-track, says Dr T M Manjunatha, the president of the Karnataka Government College Teachers Association (KGCTA).? “There is no real way for us to assess the students’ understanding,” he adds.?

‘Question of dignity’

The education sector is also feeling the effects of the lockdown. The unaided private schools in the state have seen most parents refusing to pay the school fees this year, as the classes are being held online.

D Shashi Kumar, the General Secretary of the Associated Management of Primary & Secondary Schools in Karnataka, says less than 5% of private schools have managed to collect the fees this year, with arrears from previous years pending too.?

The state has more than 20,000 budget private schools, catering to middle class and lower-middle class families. They provide employment to 225,000 teaching and non-teaching staff.? In Shashi Kumar’s estimate, more than 30,000 - 35,000 teachers, especially from the Nursery and lower primary schools have been unemployed or furloughed in the wake of the pandemic.?

While government teachers with permanent postings are unaffected, more than 8,000 guest faculty, who constitute more than half the strength of faculty in government degree colleges, have not been paid their salaries full salaries for the year. There is also uncertainty about their employment in the coming year.??

“They?put the blame on?technical problems and say that they can pay only for ten months, even though classes?were conducted beyond that,”?says John Bethel, a guest lecturer at the Government College,?Dharwad.?There has been no official order passed regarding guest lecturers taking online classes. With meager salaries ranging between Rs 11,000 - Rs 13,000,?buying new smartphones or data packs is also quite a burden on their finances.?

“They are not paid, whatever salaries they get, it does not reach them on time. It is inhuman, the way guest faculty is treated,” says Dr Manjunatha, the KGCTA president.

Veeranna Garag a guest teacher at the Morarji Desai Residential School in rural Dharwad, is uncertain about his employment prospect in the coming year but doesn’t know what other profession to take up. “We have?worked hard to qualify as for this post. There is a respect that?is accorded to us as teachers in society. So we simply can’t go looking for another job,” he says.?