Kodaikanal International School (KIS) initiative trains schools in online teaching (Photo: KIS)

Learning in Limbo

As a result of the 2020 lockdown, students and teachers worked hard to continue their education online across India and the world. According to Kodaikanal’s Master Plan 2021, the town is home to around 23 schools. They have all made changes to contend with the pandemic through 2021. For some, remote learning provides opportunities to teach and learn more efficiently; for others, Internet connectivity issues, and a lack of online learning material, computers, and smartphones have left many schools in an educational limbo.

Vidya (name changed), an 11th Standard student, points out that ‘when there was a network problem, [I] couldn’t attend class. That class would be missed, and I would not be able to understand the other lessons.’ She observes that it is more difficult to understand teachers’ explanations while attending virtual classes, which in turn makes it more difficult to answer questions. Another common struggle that she highlights is that of prolonged screen time. ‘Many schools keep four hours for each subject a day. [Students] have to watch the phone for so long!’

The author's online class (Photo: Resham George)

Lala Manuel, whose son studies at a school in Shembaganur, states, ‘[In online classes], parents have to teach children—make them write and remember things. I’m also involved in online classes. If parents have studied, there’s no problem. If parents are uneducated, it’s difficult to teach children. Most people are in agriculture, so it’s very difficult for them to sit and help their children.’ Manuel adds that the structure of online classes (videos with questions) prevents students from remembering what they learn. Instead, students rely on copying and pasting answers from the Internet. In order to supplement the gaps, he sends his son for extra tuition.

Some educational institutions say they overcame problems. Sam Abraham, founder of Kodaikanal Christian College (KCC), observes, ‘Online classes were more effective than physical classes. [Students] could finish portions ahead of time.’ As the students of KCC were already familiar with online learning tools, the transition was an easy one, and they were even able to do a Christmas play and have a virtual sports day.

Most schools only offer online classes for students in Grade 6 and above. Younger students have not been able to attend classes, online or in person. ‘The parents are worried, but the kids are happy, enjoying their lives outdoors. For them, education is linked to getting out of poverty,’ says Satish deSa, a Kodai resident who runs WagTales, a storytelling company that works with children.

Corey Stixrud, principal of Kodaikanal International School (KIS), India’s first International Baccalaureate school, said that working online was a valuable way of connecting through periods of isolation. KIS initiatives through the pandemic include raising funds for food for the needy in 2020, and a student-led project helping with offline education in Kodai. ‘Working remotely with students and engaging with parents and alumni through technology was remarkable. We even had a student who, after joining the school in Grade 12, graduated from KIS without ever being on campus!’ Although not ideal, the extensive training of teachers in online learning tools like Google Classroom (as with KCC) helped make the transition smoother.

Aviv, a student in Grade 10 at KIS, felt that online classes were more relaxing and there was more time for homework this way. ‘Things are better in Kodai than in big cities where people are stuck in apartments,’ he says. Asked about what he would do differently, he says he wishes he had asked for help when he needed it, adding, ‘I think students need to understand that this is our future, and that we need to do the best we can.’

Unconventional times call for unconventional solutions. Some educators decided that it was better to forgo online classes during the pandemic. Karuna Jenkins, trustee of a school in Kodaikanal, highlights the need for students’ ‘engagement with their peers and teachers’. Their school opted for working with students on creative projects instead of following the curriculum.

Photo: Courtesy Padmini Mani

Padmini Mani, managing trustee of My School Satya Surabhi, observes that online classes did not work for her students because of poor Internet connectivity. Instead, students worked on sustainable projects at home, monitored by their teachers: studying water conservation, cleaning water bodies, and making bags from recycled plastic wire. ‘The children were able to sell their products [more than 200 bags] in the market,’ she says.

Given the rise in Covid cases through India’s ongoing second wave, remote learning seems to be inevitable through the next academic year, starting in the second half of 2021. Online education may be here to stay, for the most part, till 2022 or at least until enough people are vaccinated, experts conjecture. Until then, the virtual classroom looks scheduled to continue to evolve and adapt.

ONLINE LEARNING RESOURCES: A GUIDE

While the Internet has an abundance of online learning material, websites or apps that use regional languages have not developed at the same pace. This is an additional hurdle for Tamil-medium learners.

Resham George

Resham George is an English and drama teacher, and an online education content creator. She has taught at Kodaikanal International School, Vasant Valley School, My School Satya Surabhi, and Overseas Chinese Academy, Chiway, China. She has also worked with the language learning app Enguru.

Previous Story

The Kodai Garbage Dump that Can Be Seen from Space

Next Story

Want to Be the Next Human Running ‘Humans of Kodaikanal’?