Tag Archives: suruchi tulsyan

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.    


 

Olympian - Manu Bhaker

IC Talks With Manu Bhaker: India’s Pistol Power at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics

When a dynamic teenage pistol shooter is targeting not one but multiple Golds at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics 2020, the entire nation has to be rooting for her. 19-year-old Manu Bhaker will be seen fighting it out in the 10 meter, 25 meter air-pistol, and mixed-team shooting events at the Japanese capital after many Covid-hit hurdles. Manu took out time from her grueling practice and meditation routine in Croatia, just before heading to Tokyo, to give an exclusive interview to India Currents

Hailing from the small village of Goria (population of 4,590 as per the last Census, 2011) in Jhajjar district of Haryana, Manu first picked the pistol at her school’s shooting range only 5 years ago. Before that, by the age of 14, Manu had already played, excelled, and voluntarily dropped out of about a dozen other games. 

“I played almost all games which were available at Universal School Goria. And mostly left (these) games after winning medals at national and state level,” Manu shares. 

Which games are these?

“Boxing, skating, marathon, kabaddi, lawn tennis, table tennis, swimming, Tang-Ta (a sword and spear martial art from Manipur), karate, and shooting. In Tang-Ta and karate I have national medals,” elaborates Manu.   

“Shooting was also a game at Universal School and many students played it” which is how Manu had her first tryst with the pistol. Excelling at other games “did not help me in any way in preparing me for shooting.” So why did she stick to this game for so long, compared to all others? 

Manu Bhaker preparing to practice in her event - shooting.
Manu Bhaker preparing to practice in her event – shooting.

“Shooting is a transparent game with a transparent system. It’s quick and gives instant results too. Alongside these factors, early results in my career of this sport, with very little work compared to other contact sports, made me opt for this sport. I enjoy sports, but I love shooting the most,” says Manu firmly. 

“Olympic is a dream for every athlete and it is mine as well. It feels great to represent India,” Manu says about her first-ever appearance at Olympics. 

However, she’s already felt the pulse and pressure of it when she created history by becoming the first female Indian athlete ever to win Gold at the Youth Olympic Games in 2018. Breaking records several times, her talent has been shining bright across championships like Commonwealth Games (2018), ISSF Junior World Cups (2018), Asian Airgun Championships (2019 and ISSF World Cups (2018, 2019, and 2021), among many others.   

Bhaker has become the sportsperson she has while growing up in Goria and is deeply attached to her home and school. “My best childhood memories are of the School stage show where I performed the role of Goddess Saraswati. I was 4 years old and everyone praised me. Girls from standard 11/12 were bowing towards me and I couldn’t control my laughter,” shares Manu fondly. 

The presence of a healthy sports culture and the ready availability of coaches at the school played a vital role in Manu’s marvelous career path. “Goria is a beautiful village and our school on its outskirts is even more beautiful,” explains Manu. 

At the recently released NITI Aayog’s Sustainable Development Goal India Index 2020-21, prepared in association with United Nations India, Haryana scored poorly on gender equality, among other things. Also, it is well known, that according to Census 2011, Haryana has the worst gender disparity in the country at 834 girls per 1000 boys. 

Given the situation, many would think life in Goria would have been challenging, but Manu quashes any such thoughts. “My life has always been a cakewalk due to a supportive family. My parents are absolutely amazing and always removed possible obstacles. Even the people in my village are great and support girls and boys equally,” shares Manu. “I have never heard or saw anything about inequality in my village and don’t know why some people always try to make this a topic of discussion. Actually, reservations, unemployment, and population control should be topics of concern,” she adds further.

Manu Bhaker with her family.
Manu Bhaker with her family.

Manu bagged several Gold medals at the 2017 National Games and a silver at the 2017 Asian Junior Championships almost within a year of picking up shooting. She’s been playing in both 10m and 25m events for five years, but coincidentally, has won all of her 14 international Golds in the 10m category only, playing either individually or in a team event. Yet, surprisingly, it is the 25m game that is closer to her heart. 

“I love the 25m sports pistol more. I enjoy the sound and passion. Also, it’s quick,” says Manu without any qualms. While focus and mental balance are imperative in this sport, a match at an international level has to evoke a myriad of emotions for any athlete. Does Manu feel nervous, or is she strategizing on the field with the opponent beside her? 

“I don’t plan. I don’t watch anyone’s game. I simply listen to music and keep myself calm. I listen to all kinds of music, including Haryanvi and Punjabi,” she shares. Her day starts early and she practices the super-powerful Suryanamaskar for an hour daily, without a miss. “I follow a standard routine starting yoga. And I haven’t changed this routine since I started shooting; nothing special for big events as every tournament is special for me.” 

Studies haven’t taken a backseat for her either. “It is very very important for me to excel at and complete my studies too. I do study for 1-2 hours daily even at this time,” says Manu. 

India’s best promise at Tokyo, this youngster is satisfied with the international standard ranges and infrastructure of her land. “I do continue to practice at my school range or in my house range for the 10m, but I have to travel 145km to Delhi for 25m pistol sports. Surprisingly, there is not a single 25m sports pistol range in our state, Haryana,” says Manu. 

Being good with a sword, spear, the pistol, and hand-to-hand combat arts of boxing and karate too, does she feel she has the spirit of a warrior? Does she see herself as a part of the army like her grandfather? 

“I am in all these things. But I will opt for the civil services,” says Manu with a sense of finality. 


Suruchi Tulsyan is a freelance journalist based in Kolkata, India, who loves taking care of her children and plants. 


 

Bajrang Punia wins the gold in Rome.

Bajrang Punia: Fighting for Gold at the Tokyo Olympics

He wrestles with all his might and communicates in immaculate Hindi. 26-year-old freestyle wrestler Bajrang Punia is among the foremost Indian stars for the upcoming 2021 Summer Olympics.

On March 8, 2021, after fighting his first big match in Rome since the pandemic struck, he’s re-secured the 65-kg weight category number 1 spot in the world.  Doing the unthinkable, he defeated his Mongolian opponent in a nail-biting last 30 seconds of the match to clinch the Gold! High on positivity about repeating the same at the upcoming Olympics, he had been training in Michigan.

Awarded with some of the country’s highest honors since 2015, including Padma Shri, Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, and Arjuna Award, Punia started wrestling at age of 7 years by playing in the mud in his village in rural India; he hailed from a financially poor but deeply encouraging family. 

Punia took out time from his challenging routine to speak to India Currents about his devotion to discipline, training during the coronavirus lockdown, and why he has released statements urging the Indian government to resolve the 2020 farmers protest.   

Bajrang Punia shows off his Gold medal in Rome.
Bajrang Punia shows off his Gold medal in Rome.

IC: The announcement of nationwide lockdown in India and the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics came within hours of each other on March 24. What were your first thoughts? 

BP: First thoughts were definitely saddening – we were just three months away from the Olympics and preparing hard for it. But on second thought, we didn’t know such a virus would arrive and everything around the globe would stop. Lockdown gave me more time to work on my performance. Life is important, the Olympics can come again. 

IC: Tell us about your daily routine. 

BP: The most essential quality for a good athlete is discipline. Without discipline, you are a zero. And the next important thing is – diet. Maintaining these is crucial. If we are at a training center – like now – we have to wake up at 4-4.30 am. I wake up, bhagwan ka naam leta hoon (pray), get fresh, and have bananas or an apple before heading out. We have to be on the mat for the first match by 5 am irrespective of the season.     

During training, we take munakka (currant) and supplements. We drink badam (almond) being made right there in kundi sota (a traditional Indian grinding instrument set). It’s strengthening and body cooling. These are specific to Indian wrestlers. After training for 2-3 hours, go back, take lunch, shower, have milk, and sleep. The same routine is repeated in the evening. I sleep by 10 pm. About 9 hours of sleep is essential. If I’m at a local training camp (when at home), the routine is a little delayed, but the same.  

IC: How was lockdown spent? 

BP: The first month was disturbing. As players, we had never stayed at home before. Now, we had to appeal to people to stay indoors and set an example too. But then I started making arrangements so that my training doesn’t suffer. I took a room for rent near our house in Sonipat and got my partner Jitendra to practice with me. I requested our community in my village Khudan in Jhajjar district, Haryana, for the wrestling mat – which they immediately sent me and we set it in the room. I bought and set up gym equipment worth Rs6-7 lakh ($8,154-$9,153); my physiotherapist Manish Konwar Chetri was with me. And the training started! 

IC: When you are playing in the ring, do you feel connected with the audience and hear them? 

BP: No. When I am on the mat, I think nothing. My full concentration is on kushti. At world-level matches, all players are good. If at all I hear someone shouting/cheering, I think it’s for me; it cannot be for the opponent! 

IC: What is your favorite food? 

BP: Churma (a traditional sweet made with wheat and ghee) made by my mother is my favorite food but I cannot eat it often due to a restricted diet. I relish it after returning home from tournaments. 

IC: Which is your favorite wrestling match? 

BP: It was at the 2013 World Championship. This was my best ever and one of the first senior matches. I won a medal (bronze). Whenever I watch that bout, I think I have to do more. At that time, India had fewer medals in the world championship. If I can win this at the age of 18, I can definitely win it at the Olympics. 

IC: What facilities at your American training center for the Olympics would you want your Indian facility can accommodate?

BP: Indian centers have it all too in my opinion. But here at this center (Cliff Kleen Wrestling Club, Michigan), everything is under one roof – a gym beside the mat, basketball, football, steam, sauna, massage…everything. It helps. 

IC: You have released messages on social media for the government to resolve the largest ever ongoing farmers’ protest in India. What is your opinion on it?

BP: If the farmers are not happy with something, why try to force it on them? If the government believes it is beneficial to them, then sit with them and explain it. Why would farmers not understand? I come from a farmers’ family and thus I understand. If you go to my home, you will see my parents work in the fields. There isn’t a single family member in the job sector. Only I am an exception, a sportsman. Farmers won’t be on the road if there is a benefit in the three farm acts.  


Suruchi Tulsyan is a freelance journalist from Kolkata, India.