‘Online teaching during pandemic taught me to expect trial and plenty of error’

With a sudden shift away from the classroom in many parts of the globe, some are wondering whether the adoption of online learning will continue to persist post-pandemic:, and how such a shift would impact the worldwide education market. Some experts believe that the unplanned and rapid move to online learning – with no training, insufficient bandwidth, and little preparation – will result in a poor user experience that is unconducive to sustained growth. There are many others who feel a new hybrid model of education will emerge, with significant benefits. Aarati Savur, an educationist and social entrepreneur is one such educationist who feels “not all is lost”. She is the CEO of Parisar Asha that supports schools to provide a 21st-century learning system integrating the environment and art.

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, Savur spoke to: Charushree Chundawat: about how parents should be educated about the benefits of girl-child education first. “Our motto should be not just right to education but right to right education,” she said.

Is education in India truly inclusive?

It is difficult to say whether we are inclusive in all aspects of education or not. In the Indian context, especially, it is not possible to use a blanket term like inclusion since we cater to a wide variety of people and ideologies. Although on paper we have policies that talk of making education inclusive in terms of access and quality but there is not much done to ensure that these policies are being enforced at school level. The NEP 2020 promises to change all of this for the better. We will get there when we get there. For the time being, it will suffice for us to say that the motive towards making ‘education for all’ is there but we still need a roadmap.

In 2019, we saw enrollment of girl students go up by a decent margin but the pandemic has resulted in school drop-outs (most of them are girl students). How are we going to ensure that we bring these students back to the classroom?

I am very uncomfortable when we talk about GER in general terms because India lives in its villages. While urban population has seen a growth in girl child enrollment at primary school level, I still do not see it happening in rural schools. Unfortunately, we are focusing mainly on education in city-schools and not going to the grassroots level. Take Mumbai for example; you will find a decent gender ratio in most of the city schools but in the suburbs, there is hardly any girl who goes to a decent school. They are either forced into labor or married off. The pandemic has made the situation even worse. I would blame the academic temper for this; we have not been able to convince our rural populace that education of girl child is a must. What we need is schemes and policies focussed to bring these students back to the classroom first.

Could you elaborate on what else can be done at the grassroots level to bridge this glaring gender gap in schools?

There are many ways in which this can be done. First, get all stakeholders onto the table – parents, teachers, principals and policymakers. Let there be an open ended discussion on how we want to improve this situation. We are all collaborators at the end of the day and the onus is on us to take our individual responsibilities in a child learning.

Second, educate the parent if you want them to send their children to school. A child cannot take that decision on his / her own. It is important that parents should be given that kind of education, not only in terms of academic but also social education where they should really feel that every child deserves to be educated. We, at Parisar Asha, believe in the right to the right education. To motivate students to come to school we have to make our education edu-tainment. Learning that is both fun and informative.

Has online learning / teaching done more bad than good?

Online learning is a strict no for me. At our organization, we work in the primary years of a child learning and for these developing years of a child, digital learning is like sounding the death-knell. For such students, education has to be a hands-on activity. Our focus is not just on academic education but also in helping students with life skills and that cannot be taught online.

There is also a vulnerable section of society that was completely ignored during online learning. For such students schools were a safer environment than homes. Due to the pandemic this section suffered quite a bit of a jolt. We have direct our efforts in bringing these kids back to school and keeping them safe.

There are two ways of looking at the situation, while I have spoken about the negatives; the pandemic has also had a positive outcome. Now everybody is digitally literate. Of course, there will be drawbacks to that. I think the way ahead is going to be blended learning where you have to use the online medium but you also have to go back to your traditional old-age teaching methodology.

Integration of environment and art into learning is a brilliant concept. How will it work at the school level?

The environment is a part of our life. The kind of person you are is because of the kind of environment you have been brought up in. When you learn from your surroundings, that learning stays with you forever. Like the environment, it is not possible for us to remove art from our lives as well. Instead of focusing on grades and assessments, we should teach children how to learn and grasp from seeing things around them. It will provide them opportunities for future sustainability.

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