With the 'new normal' come a host of opportunities to grow
When schools reopen again, what will it be like? Will classrooms look the same? And time tables? These are some of the questions on kids' minds today. Well, your guess is as good as mine, but one thing is certain - we are changed human beings. The challenges of recent weeks are far from over, but with the 'new normal' came learnings - especially when it came to e-learning.
For children and teachers, the last three months have been about relearning how to learn and teach respectively. Overnight, we were asked to adapt. Teachers scrambled together what they knew of online platforms and editing software; pupils found themselves in a new kind of school with altered rules and boundaries.
"What's your biggest learning from e-learning?" I asked Nandini Bhattacharya, a 14-year-old I teach drama to. "Time management," she piped back. "I've gotten so much better at it. I realised there is so much you can do, even without anyone constantly pushing you. Planning my time has given me more free time."
All these years, schools have always scheduled everything for you, deciding when you should study or play. With e-learning, teenagers like Nandini were suddenly given the kind of responsibility that one associates only with adult work life. A list of tasks and the freedom to execute them in any order you choose, as long as you get the job done.
Kids were exposed to the pressure of deadlines, the lure of procrastination and the challenges of having to discipline yourself to get work done. After all, the lessons were no lighter, the projects no fewer - it was just that, now, distraction was a swipe away. No more did you have to hide a phone to chat with a friend.
Hridaya Marghade, 12, another one of my students, says that while she likes how much of her work is now online, she misses the joys of collaborating with classmates and learning from them. An education is about a lot more than a single teacher giving instructions and a room of children following them: it's about an environment where everything helps you learn.
On the flip side
Teachers, however, are asking different questions altogether: when I cannot physically see my class and monitor their every move, can I still trust them to do what they need to? How much of my job and identity is connected to imparting knowledge and how much of it is about exercising control in class?
I am eager for us to be able to return to what we traditionally know as 'school' - a building and classrooms and break time and corridors - but I also know that in these few months of online learning and teaching drama, I have learnt so much.
I have learnt that my students are far more adept at using technology than I am. I've learnt that as much as children have always said they would rather stay home and endlessly watch Netflix, they too crave learning, and thank God for that! I've learnt that, at the pace at which our world is changing, the greatest tool we can hand the next generation is adaptability. And this is perhaps a lesson they are teaching us better than we are teaching them.
Varadan is managing director, The Hive