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While ‘schools’ are closed ‘education’ is continuing, are we ready to build over…? (Shubhangi Sharma, Executive Director, IIMPACT)

The sudden and unprecedented outbreak of Corona pandemic left the whole world stunned. The gross errors of preparedness along with inadequacies of facilities became brutally evident. Lives came to a stand still and continue to be in the same state for several months now. The pandemic has thrown crores of livelihoods into a chaotic twister. There are hardly any signs of a revival of our economy until a vaccine is made available to safeguard lives and provide relief. The closure of offices, malls, markets, curbs on travel, restrictions on mobility needs for social distancing; have all been enough evidence of nature’s superiority over humankind. Once again, nature has bewildered all of us with its power to regulate and rule. Social media is filled with messages of compassion, patience, and brotherhood against a disease that has brought the entire world to its heels irrespective of economic or nuclear power– making social—cultural and economic divides starker than ever before. Moreover, fear and helplessness has united the world in more than a few ways.

In such a scenario, for many of us interested and involved in the process of education, this period has been a time of serious introspection and reflection. To be honest, like all other practitioners for us also, as a community of practitioners, the period started with a sense of loss – schools are closed, children are compelled to stay inside homes and there is no likelihood of us seeing them soon in the near future. In such a terrible scenario what is there for us to do and look forward to? Furthermore, the thought of children lagging in education due to this absence from schools is something which had kept bothering all of us.

However, as time passed by a new realization emerged – going beyond initial straight-line thinking of taking ‘scholastic education’ to ‘tech platform’ to engage with children without being mindful of the fact that a large number of rural deprived children in India still don’t have access to technology even in its simplest form. Many of us even started to wonder whether it is a point of worry at all or there is merit in being hopeful that ‘education’ is still happening and we must be able to capture it and make it a part of our ‘scholastic’ delivery as and when the schools open.

Several of us wondered – Is there a way that we can educate our child even while schools are closed? Is she sitting at home and idling away time or is she still learning? And the answer was ‘yes’, just that we need to know about it. While physical spaces named ‘schools’ remain under lock and key, children are constantly on a steep learning path and we can still engage with them wherever they are, whoever they are, in whatever circumstances they are in.

76-year-old Kamalamma, a resident of Chennagirikoppalu, lost her job as a housemaid due to her age. Her landlord felt terribly scared of keeping an old person for household chores amidst the corona lockdown. It was only sometime back that Rotary Heritage – Mysuru took up the responsibility to feed Kamalamma as she had no means to sustain during the lockdown. The same Kamalamma donated Rs 500 out of her Rs 600 pension for a corona relief food program; then also she regretted being able to contribute only that amount.

This is just one story of several stories floating around exemplifying care, concern, and compassion for fellow beings. One wonders what the story does not have to build scholastic learning – even literacy, numeracy, and environmental studies over and above human values. Even at the risk of making it too simplistic, I would say – Police and doctors on duty at this critical hour, is an education enough for a child to understand that sense of duty is supreme. People themselves earning meagre salaries putting up langar’s, a tradition in which free food is distributed and shared with fellow beings, is teaching enough for the child to be able to share whatever little one he or she has; A number of young person’s going out each day to locate and feed hungry animals on the street, is an education enough to understand that life is important in any form it may be; Several families across the country choosing for minimalist existence, is a realization enough that there is a difference between needs and wants; and also a revelation that ‘greed for accumulation’ after a while is futile; people distributing food in every nook and corner of the country is learning enough to understand that sharing is caring.

Lessons are plenty and more. Only that we need to see how a child might be learning inside her family, seeing television, listening to radio news, and observing her surroundings…And if we learn enough, we need not be worried about the loss of time for the education of the child which seemed to have gripped several of us over a period of the last three months. If that is not education, then I wonder, what could be a better way to teach and instil in a child the often-repeated human values and skills for the 21st century. And if it is indeed ‘education’ then how does it matter that schools do not run for a few more months or exams are not held in the immediate future. How does it make a difference that the business of literacy and numeracy skills is halted for some time? Nothing is going to be lost forever…

The point here is that an observant, inquisitive, and intuitive child is ‘learning’ a lot while schools are closed. However, are we learning what the child is learning, to be able to engage with her in due course. What is the role of us ‘educationists’ going forward? Perhaps, for now, to let this education happen, and if possible, see that it is strengthened through our intervention once the child is back to school. There are ample opportunities created for a dialogue with that child; to listen to her observation of the period she spent outside this physical space where education seemed to have happened earlier, and make those observations the ‘foundation’ for further learning and scholastic interventions.

The challenge for us would be to be prepared to engage with that child who will join back with a more wise, observant, and inquisitive outlook towards the world around her. Who perhaps will be more restless than ever before, somewhat emotionally drained, depressed, confused and fearful as well; who would be full of questions on what happened and what did not happen at this time of chaos, uncertainty, and helplessness; and what she went through in this time of uncertainty? What would be required essentially is to give ‘tools’ to the child to articulate, think, reflect, analyse, and learn from it.

Will we be prepared enough to answer some of her questions, many of which might not be comfortable to listen to, several might be hard to answer? Would we be patient enough to talk to her, listen to her, and help her in forming her own perspectives as that, is the aim of real education. Some of these experiences might not be of immediate use but certainly, would be worth pondering over to help build a new world – a world filled with kindness, compassion, patience, care, and concern for all. That is the preparation which we need to do as educationists, teachers, and educational pedagogy experts. Are we doing enough to be ready…?

Shubhangi Sharma, Executive Director, IIMPACT