Totally approachable and down to earth, with forever a cheerful smile; that is Niru Agarwal, Trustee, Greenwood High School. Quite early in life, her leadership qualities were there for all to see, which found their true manifestation in her emergence as an entrepreneur par excellence, with a vision for the betterment of the society. Under her stewardship & unique approach to education, Greenwood High School has reached newer heights of excellence in moulding the young minds of tomorrow. Niru Agarwal is also the interface for the Group’s social commitments and welfare schemes and has been a prominent fixture in various charitable organisations.
There were times when we were made to realise that distance-education is not the best choice for education. In the current scenario, we are made to believe that distance or online learning will become an integral part of our education. This pandemic COVID-19 has taught us many life lessons, it has also taught us that education must change to prepare learners for an unpredictable future.
Schools across the country have moved to virtual classes, and when these schools reopen, both teachers and students are going to need their digital skills to be successful in future. Students are now getting prepared to navigate the real world and the virtual world efficiently to deal with future disruptions. Depending on how long the pandemic lasts, schools may be forced to find creative ways to get children enjoy learning. Until a few years ago, the online medium was used only for entertainment content, but now it has taken over traditional classroom methods. Despite some perceived drawbacks, online learning is the need of the hour.
When the storm of pandemic passes, schools may be revolutionised by this online teaching-learning experience. Instead of walking into a school, students might be turning on their laptops to see live-streaming lessons. Online learning gives learners the benefit of learning from the comfort of their homes or while travelling, providing flexibility in terms of space. In real school life, students belong to a peer group which instils a sense of competition, motivating them to excel but the forced online classes suffer from issues like attention span, as students tend to multi-task; checking emails, chatting with friends and surfing the net during online sessions. This poses questions, how do we instil discipline and develop relationships with students through a virtual environment? How do we monitor understanding? Is virtual learning truly a better alternative? Or is it better to return to a formal classroom setting?
Learning is an ongoing process, and the vision of schools is to overcome the learning crisis. Digital learning enables students to take better advantage of the resources available online. Assessments might change, giving more weightage to weekly assignments and online presentations compared to final exams. Educators are teaching through video conferencing, and students participate using padlet – a virtual post-it note system that lets them share their ideas, and flipgrid, which allows students and teachers to create and share videos.
Social distancing could be challenging for high school students who thrive on social connections. This crisis abruptly brought an end to their school year, taking away the quintessential traditions like graduation ceremony followed by cancelled exams which have impacted students emotionally. Apart from implementing guidelines to provide a better learning experience, caring for their physical and emotional well-being is also important.
After this phase subsides, the students will be more conscious of this infectious disease when they come out of home quarantine to re-enter school. The schools will enforce social distancing by asking students to disinfect their hands before entering school while security guards will take their temperature. In the classrooms, the desks will be rearranged to increase space, group activities will be limited, the movement will be restricted within the classroom, and on the corridors, other available space in the school will be used for smaller groups, visits to the washroom will be restricted, congestion during arrival and dismissal will be reduced, recess area will be segregated according to classes, solo physical activity will be encouraged instead of games, meal times will be staggered, and events like assemblies, field trips, excursions and classes with high rates of the meeting will be cancelled.
While so much remains uncertain about what the future holds, post-pandemic expectations largely depend on schools’ current preparedness for digital learning. This is an opportunity that reminds us of the skills students need in future, such as informed decision making, creative problem-solving, think creatively, communication, collaborative learning and adaptability. It is a good time to reflect on how this disruptive crisis can help us define what learning should look like for future generations.