While many teachers and students all over the country heave a sigh of relief at the thought of the resumption of school life as they know it, deep down, unsettling feelings still linger. Is it truly possible to go back to the way things were before the Coronavirus pandemic descended? Have some integral parts of school life changed so much that there would be no turning back?
More importantly, how many of these changes have long been in the works only to be accelerated by the pandemic disruption? And how much of what is termed the new normal doesn’t really seem to be normal at all?
For most teachers, the change would be from within themselves. For more than four months, teachers have had to deal with adapting to a new teaching platform. For countless many, this was a challenge that they had never anticipated in their wildest dreams. But the situation was here to stay – almost overnight – and teachers were expected to be competent in managing digital tools for virtual lessons and facilitating online delivery.
There were no ‘emergency’ or ‘last-minute’ intensive courses for those thoroughly unfamiliar in this terrain. They were thrown into the ocean and had to learn how to swim – very quickly.
Although most of the initial attempts were just to stay afloat, in the end many teachers did learn how to swim.
From clumsy thrashing about, to beginner strokes and getting water up nostrils, teachers finally managed to make some progress in adapting to working remotely due to the pandemic. Now that the shore is in sight, we can look back and either wonder at the distance we have crossed in just a short period of time or think about the diverse challenges we had along the way.
These challenges bombarded us from many directions. From our own lack of familiarity with technology, to connectivity issues, and the challenges of keeping students engaged on a virtual platform; these factors blew the expectation of a smooth transition.
To some, the problem was as fundamental as getting students to attend the online synchronous classes and accessing the materials that had been prepared and uploaded for them.
Perhaps there will come a day when we will look back at this period in time when the whole education scene was transformed not through careful long term policies or educational blueprints but by sheer force of necessity.
Here were our students, ready to be educated but physically unreachable. Here were our carefully planned syllabi and teaching aids, ready to be delivered but void of a physical platform. Here were our school buildings, equipped with neatly arranged desks, but alas, inaccessible due to the pandemic and the movement restrictions.
As teachers and educators, we grappled with new and unfamiliar technology, marking our progress in online teaching through the numerous times we rose and fell at a time when it could not be business as usual.
But here we are now, being realistic as we prepare for the next stage. Some things that we have learnt along the way will stay with us at least until the end of our teaching career or possibly even longer.
Even if we had started out with some reluctance, we adapted to learning technology. We do know that the new pedagogy and the use of digital tools will continue to different extents depending on the diverse education settings and needs. We have experimented with new teaching and learning practices during this time and significant parts of these methodologies will remain impactful. No more will teaching and learning be confined to brick and mortar classrooms.
Classrooms themselves will take on a new meaning for many who have never taught or learnt in a space other than the physical classroom. We can be sure that from now on, the mix of remote, online and physical learning will become a norm in many educational institutions including schools as such pedagogy becomes a part of the teacher’s job description.
And even as we prepare return to our schools, we realise that other challenges await. Teachers will have to ensure that all students are more or less on the same page before the syllabi is resumed.
Chances are, challenges due to distance, Internet connectivity and the absence of computers or devices, will surface as students who have missed out on remote teaching and learning sessions are found to be lagging behind. Teachers brace themselves as they discover that perhaps entire classes or student groups have missed out on learning due to this inaccessibility.
Students who have had some form of online learning, too, will need a readjustment period as they return to their old classrooms. An underlying sense of familiarity lingers, yet takes on an altered feel. They will work under some kind of normalcy even as classrooms may not be the recognisable places once taken for granted.
Students will no longer lean over the next table to borrow rulers or erasers. They will not be able to give their unsuspecting classmates a pencil poke in the ribs. No longer will there be the side-by-side sharing of nasi lemak in the school canteen. Forget about warning nudges from their best friends when they are lost in day dreams about the hockey hunks as the teachers’ eyes bore down on them.
These missing anecdotes, the simple human interactions – that we have taken for granted in the past – will be valued and cherished more than ever.
It is when we lose such preciousness that we feel the keenness of its loss. Perhaps some of us have already discovered how significant these parts of school life are.
The sight of your colleague whom you hardly speak to at the end of the staff room suddenly fills you with cheer. Even the untidy pile of exercise books on your desk that needs grading makes you surprisingly thankful. And seeing your principal’s face in the morning has never been as uplifting as it has now.
Let us hope that with time and the right processes, school life can return to some semblance, if not exactly, to the point we left it – a place where even higher forms of teaching and learning experiences unfold.
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