Teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic

 

By Preeti Syiemlieh

There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought an abrupt halt to our daily ‘normal’ routine. Every day we hear and read about people struggling to meet their basic needs, people losing their livelihood, people dying and losing their loved ones to COVID-19. It would be safe to assume that humans everywhere are facing some kind of hardship due to this pandemic.

It’s been more than 2 months that a nationwide lockdown has been imposed in India. To maintain physical distancing, places which require huge gathering such as markets, offices, cinema halls, restaurants, educational institutions have been closed. Strategies such as work from home and online classes/mentoring has been adopted by various organisations and educational institutions to maintain some level of productivity while also adhering to physical distancing. Globally as well as in India and even in our State, educational institutions have adopted online classes method to teach students. Platforms such as Zoom, Google meet and Watsapp are used for connecting with students and assignments are given to assess the student’s learning progress (or rather to just complete the course, the teachers would know better). Conducting online classes to educate students during a global pandemic sounds very noble but how it translates in reality is something which prompted me to write this article. I am not going to comment on the socio-economic disparity among students which the online class method fails to consider, for which much has been written and are available in various media sources.

I am writing this as a guardian who is concerned about the lack of understanding or rather insensitivity of educational institutions, particularly of the teachers, for the mental health of their students. Various international and national organisations such as WHO (World Health Organisation) and Indian Psychiatric Society have stated that the effects of COVID-19 are not limited only to our physical health but also affect the psychological and emotional health of a large number of people. According to a survey conducted by the Indian Psychiatry Society, within a week of the start of the lockdown, the number of reported cases of mental illness in India had risen by 20% (source: The Print dated May 23rd 2020).

I have a ward, who is studying in one of the most prestigious private institutions of Meghalaya, enrolled in a programme where she has been taught by her teachers to be empathetic towards others, the importance of self-care and mental well-being. But during this pandemic, when the students really needed the teachers to step up their game and practically show how those lessons taught in class can be applied in real time, it is unfortunate to say that these teachers failed miserably in real life. Priority is given to completion of course and pressuring students to submit assignments on time. Here, some may argue that the teachers are being instructed by the administrators and that their hands are tied but this doesn’t justify the indifference shown by some of the teacher’s towards their students during these trying times.

Aren’t we all in the same storm? Or are some of us are just too oblivious to what is happening around us and the realities of our society?. Definitely the teachers and administrators in these educational institutions are also part of this society and are facing similar hardship which the students are also experiencing. There is the general fear of this disease, the uncertainty of their livelihoods and future. As people are quarantining themselves in their own homes, there are some issues which I would like to highlight which I gathered through media reports and a general sense of how a society works.

During this pandemic, people (students and teachers alike) may be not be living in the most favourable home environment. Some of them may have an abusive parent, spouse or other family members. Some may have lost their source of income; some may have elderly or sick family members to care for; some may be struggling to even get up of their beds and perform their daily duties. All these issues coupled with the uncertainty brought about by this pandemic do not provide for most of the students a suitable state of mind for healthy learning. Education is beyond completing the course, assignments and good grades. And a teacher who is passionate about positively nurturing their students will understand this.

When all this is over, when we are back to our normal routine and students are back in their schools/colleges what will be remembered, appreciated and have a bearing in the student’s life for the long run is NOT the amount of assignments the teachers forced them to complete, the PPTs and articles circulated, the Zoom meetings and links to YouTube videos. What will be remembered is the empathy the teachers showed towards the students’ problems, teachers meeting them half way or even beyond to navigate these challenges with compassion as they impart learning and most importantly for not being a cause for the student’s mental health to deteriorate.

Lastly, I am also very aware that there are teachers, who are standing against the administration and their colleagues, to voice out the challenges faced by the students. These teachers truly care for the holistic development of the young minds in our society and not just about providing information.

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