Tag Archives: #onlinelearning

Behind the Curtains of Virtual Classrooms Across Nations

It’s September and millions of students are meeting their teachers back in classrooms. This month is also special for teachers back in India as September 5 was fondly celebrated as Teachers Day.

India Currents spoke to teachers across the two countries to understand the challenges they have been facing since being forced into online classrooms in April 2020. While parents have been raising concerns and the government is busy formulating rules and policies on online teaching, the teaching fraternity has been stoically reinventing and upgrading themselves, notwithstanding personal hardships.

“First of all, the pandemic forced us, teachers, into technology. It was very difficult – especially for the senior ones – to take that path, but there was no choice,” says Mohua Gupta, primary school teacher, BD Memorial International School, Kolkata, India. 

Her peers agree. “It is one thing to know how to operate a computer and another to be able to systematically use it to teach an entire class of 25-45 students when you’ve never done it before,” shares Ms. Shobha Rani, a Biology teacher at Eleanor Roosevelt High School, Greenbelt, Maryland. Ms. Rani has taught students of all grades for the last 21 years in America, and for 11 years in India before that.

18 months down the line, even senior teachers have become fluid on platforms like Google Classrooms, Zoom meetings, downloading and uploading images to mark corrections, making powerpoints and videos on all subject topics. They say it wasn’t as much the absence of chalk-and-blackboard or desk-and-chairs or pen-and-paper that caused the biggest difficulties in the first place.   

Ms. Mohua Gupta, a primary school teacher at BD International School

“I missed the children. The physical absence of children was a huge challenge because I was used to it for 24 years,” observes Ms. Gupta, with a hint of dejection. As if that wasn’t enough, many students couldn’t (and still cannot) attend online classes due to the unavailability of either device or internet connectivity issues. 

“Ma’am has become abracadabra!” exclaimed one child when the teacher lost connection during my daughter’s online class. She was explaining ‘magical mathematic tricks’ when the internet snag happened!

Carrying on, away from the tinkle of classrooms and beaming faces of students, teachers faced the double-edged sword of learning new e-tools for teaching age-old lessons online. They couldn’t share its emotional impact with their students or parents, but shockingly, grappled from within.

“Our lesson plans had to change suddenly to suit online teaching. It was a lot to learn in terms of online classroom tools and process everything quickly and impart students the same. I was not confident initially,” admits Ms. Rani, who at present is teaching Grades 9-12.

As large classrooms with expressive faces gave way to thumbnail size icons on gadgets during online classes, many students switched their videos off. Yet, others started chatting with peers on the classroom chat-box! Teachers wouldn’t understand whether their labored lessons are seeping in. 

“We cannot force students to keep their cameras on – County rules were passed against it, as some students feel conscious, or have backgrounds they don’t want to show… As a teacher, I had to encourage them, motivate them with games-oriented lessons, music, and even extra points,” says Ms. Rani.  

Navigating between classes is an enriching exercise for most during school hours. But online, it turned a woe. “From having anything between 5-7 hours of interaction time daily at school, now we had only 1.5 hours online for the primary children. Some children are extroverts, talking too much, while some are too shy to speak – I had to think about how to cope with them all. We cannot miss anyone,” shares Ms. Mukhopadhyay, primary school teacher of Mathematics from a reputable school in Kolkata, requesting anonymity. 

To tackle it all, teachers turned bedrooms/living into soundproof appealing virtual classrooms where concepts could be floated and shared. But is the child doing his bit of the work independently? “After getting the assignments, in many cases, teachers are left in the lurch to figure if parents have done the assignments, their tuition teacher or the child himself!” exclaims Ms. Mukhopadhyay. 

Grappling with these, on one hand, getting constructive feedback is what the teachers are longing for on the other. “It is demoralizing if you’ve worked hard and get negative feedback from students/parents. On the other hand, if there is no feedback, guilt sets in – maybe I’ve not done well enough to explain,” reflects Ms. Mukhopadhyay.

Ms. Mona Kothari, pre-primary teacher, Hitchcock School, Scarsdale, New York, had an experience of another kind since she taught online only for 3 months when the pandemic hit. “Fear wasn’t on my mind when we started in-person classes for our 2-5-year-old children from September 2020. Masks were mandatory for all and parents were not permitted at the school compound among other things. Surprisingly, all the children followed the rules. Not one child or staff fell ill during the entire session ending in June 2021,” she shares. She’s looking forward to the upcoming new session too thus, though many others fret of consequences otherwise.

But in the 3 months of her online classes, she also admits to having faced an immensely increased workload. A job that often started in the morning used to end by late afternoon in normal times. But now, has stolen precious hours of family and relaxation time. 

“Though we are not making as many videos compared to last year, we are regularly creating educative-cum-fun online quizzes for children to gauge how much of each topic have they understood. Numbers of online classes have increased this academic year starting in April 2021 (in India). There are reinforcement classes, query phone calls and assignments pouring in for correction after the classes are over. We are working from home for about 16-17 hours on every working day even now,” shares Ms. Mukhopadhyay. 

Ms. Shobha Rani, a Biology teacher at Eleanor Roosevelt High School

“At a personal level, although we were all working from home, we were loud enough to shut our doors in different bedrooms. My husband thought I was over-working, not paying attention to the house… You get distracted a lot – something is on the stove… let’s take the dog out for 10 minutes… now we have got used to it,” shares Ms. Rani.

In America, like in India till recently, most teachers were exclusively in the online classroom until March 2021.  As schools in America started experimenting with the hybrid model in April 2021 – where parents had the choice of sending their children to school or opting for online classes only, the teaching scene became further complicated. 

“From April-June 2021, we had very few students coming to school on select days of the week in the hybrid model, while most chose to continue online. I was teaching virtually simultaneously from the school premises as I taught the students present in class. Concentrating on and managing both is a big challenge,” explains Ms. Rani. 

Commenting that the world has a lot to learn from Finland, where the teaching community enjoys high respect and status, Ms. Rani sums up: 

“What is a teacher feeling? We are the last ones to be worried about even though we voice ourselves the most… It would boost the morale of all teachers – the future makers – if parents and students speak up and share one good thing their teacher did for them during the pandemic.”


Suruchi Tulsyan is a freelance journalist based in Kolkata, India.    


 

EnthuZiastic Online Platform

Bay Area’s Vinti Maheshwari Creates an Online Platform to Form Connections

Amidst all the sudden and unfortunate outbreak of coronavirus in and around March 2020, not a single day passed without acknowledging the suffering it caused to humanity. While we took a year to assess and be well prepared to face it on with the vaccines rolling out, the stories of resilience, kindness, sheer courage kept flowing in throughout the year and onwards. There are many ordinary faces who all in their might devised or re-directed their ways to mitigate the loss and pain. 

Founder – Vinti Maheshwari

Vinti Maheshwari, the founder of the online platform EnthuZiastic, shares her journey with Indian Currents in this interview. 

IC: What is EnthuZiastic?

VM: EnthuZiastic is an online platform and a collaborative community where like-minded people come together irrespective of their age, gender, profession, faith, nationality. They bond over their mutual enthusiasm and zeal to create and share a healthy space where the self and the others grow together. 

I would not hesitate to say that I envision EnthuZiastic to be a world prototype brimming with joy, kindness, selfless love; where members encourage, help and motivate each other.

IC: What happens at EnthuZiastic? How do you create that shared and healthy space?

VM: Let me answer it differently. Spanish, Piano, Yoga, Vedic Math, Cooking, and the list continue. I mentioned very different things in the same thread. It sometimes makes one curious, Right? (chuckles softly)

But that’s the beauty and uniqueness of EnthuZiastic. We have something for everyone.

Our members range from preschool kids to senior citizens encompassing all age groups. We have this whole plethora of courses, starting from preschool and phonics classes to Vedic Math, Beatboxing, Piano, Scratch Coding, Chess, Fitness and Yoga and so many. Name what you want to learn and we have expert instructors teaching those skills and knowledge at EnthuZiastic. You can even request a custom course!

We have different clubs — Science Club, Preschool Club, Art Club, and Grandparents Club.

We have societies where we host Enthziastic talks; members share their stories, connect and motivate others. And importantly, EnthuZiastic Celebrations.

IC: So, If I ask you to pinpoint the one very thing which you think makes EnthuZiastic stand out as unique, what that would be?

VM: I have to pinpoint that one thing about EnthuZiastic that makes it unique is the EnthuZiastic Celebrations

We at EnthuZiastic celebrate all the possible festivals and occasions to spread joy and smiles. We celebrated Eid, Mothers’ Day, Diwali, Valentines’ day, Cinco de Maya, Fathers’ Day, and Yoga Day. Presently we are hosting summer camps for the kids which is parallel to the kind of fresh arrival of fall and spring!

Summer Camp at EnthuZiastic.
Summer Camp at EnthuZiastic.

We are trying to make kids and our members aware of differences. By celebrating these all kinds of festivals and events, we are learning to respect different cultures and faiths. I believe this will make our world a kinder and more tolerant place to live in.

IC: I am keen to ask, how did EnthuZiastic start? 

VM: There were many reasons actually behind it. When I came to America, I had few friends. There were nuclear families. There was lots of judgment and complaints that I miss this back in India, but to my disappointment, no one was doing anything about it.

I wanted to create something to make vanish some of the complaints and problems, if not all.

So, I started with this idea of a one-day camp called Play Date. Kids from the neighborhood joined and they loved it. As we shifted to new cities many times, this Play Date remained a part of our lives. Wherever we went we created this community for our kids and ourselves. 

EnthuZiastic’s Online Platform

IC: And who are the people behind EnthuZiastic?

VM: Like-minded people volunteered, often. I want to name some of them here: Mayuri, Soniya, Vaishali, Surbhi, Suruchi, Murti Aunty, Jyoti Aunty, and many more. They have seen EnthuZiastic in its crib and few of them are still at EnthuZiastic.

Pratik, my husband, has always been the rock support. When we shifted from offline to online mode, he came as the urgent strength I needed. He is the complementing courageous soul behind EnthuZiastic, and we have a complete team working dedicatedly on the online platform.

IC: I derive from your story that EnthuZiastic started as an offline thing happening in a physical space, right? When and why did it go online?

VM: In fact, very recently! When the pandemic hit the world, I felt it my responsibility to do more than what I was doing earlier. From all the different parts of the world, we were in this together — in this suffering, loss, and pain. Also, the pandemic made it kind of impossible to gather in person and connect in physical space.

That was the phase when I thought of going digital, reaching out to as many as we can. I wanted EnthuZiastic to be a bright thing of hope amid all these dark and tough times.

IC: Would you like to pass on some messages? 

VM: Yes! It’s never late to learn or to start afresh. There always remains some room and scope to be the better version of yourself. And together, we are strong and invincible!

And if you want to be a part of this beautiful journey of hope, growth, sharing, and enthusiasm at EnthuZiastic, visit and join us here! 


Neha Kumari is a literary enthusiast. She ardently believes that words are the most empowering tool to catalog and question every cause and can change and resurrect the world for the better.