Priyanka Bhatt is passionate about educational equity and environmental causes. Being an ever-curious person, Priyanka enjoys exploring applications of Computer Science and Cognitive Psychology for the benefit of humanity. Her hobbies include reading mystery thrillers, writing poetry, playing the keyboard and, most recently, building her website www.the-seeker.in
As an ambitious, fifteen-year-old high-schooler, I am ever-excited about learning. I love my school and its dedicated faculty. As I completed my ninth standard examinations in March, I was eager to immediately immerse myself in my tenth standard classes. Shakespeare. Genetics. Electro-magnetism. I could not wait to get started!
But alas, that was not meant to be. The Coronavirus pandemic dealt a crushing blow to my plans. Before I knew it, everyone was locked down at home. The school could not declare my ninth standard results. Nor did my tenth standard classes commence.
No one had answers to the myriad of questions from students and parents. The school authorities were wrestling with the evolving uncertainties, waiting for clarity and direction from the government. With every passing day, my anxiety increased as I read depressing social media posts about the rapid increase in COVID-19 infections and deaths.
However, one April morning, all of that changed. We were informed that our tenth standard classes would commence online! But on the very first day, as my friends and I tried to log on, Zoom – the collaboration platform – malfunctioned. Further, given the security-related concerns related to Zoom, our school transitioned to Microsoft Teams. Finally, our classes commenced with gusto! All of us online at home. No school uniforms. No travel to school. No meeting friends at breaks. No sharing of snacks. No gossip. Together, yet apart. Our new normal.
The COVID-19 crisis has given me time for reflection and introspection. It has made me a lot more grateful for the opportunities I have access to. As the world reels through challenging times, I am indeed lucky to have a secure home and parents who can provide for me. I have a laptop and a functional wi-fi at home. And my school is leaving no stone unturned to give me the best possible educational experience.
While we honour frontline heroes such as doctors, nurses and police officers, we must also celebrate our teachers for their commitment to educating us. Almost overnight, they have retooled themselves and learned how to conduct online classes. They have quickly reinvented their teaching methods, using PowerPoint presentations and innovative communication techniques to make distant learning impactful and fun – even as they juggle household chores with their teaching duties. I am genuinely grateful for my teachers’ sacrifices!
Unfortunately, there are millions of disadvantaged students across the country who are unable to continue their education. They do not have access to computers or reliable internet connectivity. Many attend schools that do not have the faculty or infrastructure to conduct online classes. And then there are children from underprivileged families whose schools are no longer able to guarantee them daily tiffin and mid-day meals. Hunger is their new normal.
The closure of schools also impacts many without a financial safety-net: the autorickshaw drivers who ferry children to and from school; the hawkers outside the school who peddle sweets and savouries; and the security guards who ensure our safety. I worry about the well-being of their families – especially the children belonging to such households.
I hope that the COVID-19 pandemic serves as a chilling reminder to society that the educational and economic upliftment of tens of millions of underprivileged children in India is a burning agenda. Personally, I am determined, more than ever before, to make a positive change in this regard: to use my knowledge and skills to educate future generations, reduce societal inequities, and create a safer, more secure tomorrow for all.