Unreal Class, Real Tensions

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Teachers recount the travails of delivering online lectures at 2G speed, reports Umar Mukhtar

Open Air Online Class without a teacher on a hillock in Lachipora Wildlife Sanctuary. This is the place where students from a number of villages go daily to manage better 2G internet access. KL Image: Sheikh Mustafa

At 8 am,  Rafia, a school teacher, keeps her cell phone connected with a charger fixed to a wall. This is in anticipation of her online lecture delivery to the students of Salfia Muslim Higher Secondary Institute Srinagar, where she is employed.

 After the Covid-19 lockdown was implemented, all educational institutions were shut for an indefinite period. To cope with a seemingly unending lockdown, educational institutions switched to a virtual mode of teaching. So, teachers connected to students via online.

In Kashmir, teaching online is an uphill task, as no high-speed internet is available. This all has to be done in 2G mode. So, Rafia gets herself ready for the classroom half an hour earlier. But she is always nervous while delivering the online classes. She does not know if anyone will pop up on the other side of the screen.

Rafia has been teaching her online classes from April. Every day, she delivers lecturers to three online classes. The months-long experience of Rafia is unexpectedly scary. She says such classes are “horrible and humiliating” especially for a private school teacher.

Pathetic Parents

In June, while teaching via online mode, she spotted a student by the name of ‘Redmi 6.’ “Who is this Redmi 6,” Rafia asked repeatedly. After some time a mature male voice answered. “My child is playing outside. I will take his class; you teach me and I will teach him later on.”  

Sharing another such incident, Rafia says she got a call at 11 in the night from a parent. “My child was not present in the last day’s examination. Can you take his exam?,” Rafia remembered the father of her student saying.  “I told him that this is not the appropriate time to call. I told him to call at 10 am and I will take an exam for your child. Following day till 4, he didn’t call me.”

At 4 pm, the parent called her again and urged her to give their child some more hours to prepare. “I will call you in the evening,” the parent, Rafia said, told her. “I told him to ask your child to prepare at ease, I am going to take his exam the following day.” Rafia did not get the call again for the examination, so far. “I seriously doubt the intentions of such people. It is very tough for a teacher to go through all this.”    

Bullying Virtually

Parents apart, teachers face bullying by the students. Most students take online classes non-seriously. Abid, known as John Sir in his school is a teacher at Holy Messenger at Pulwama. He never tolerates indiscipline in his class but students now bully him online and he cannot figure it out who is doing what. “Students don’t take classes seriously and we cannot do anything,” Abid said, adding if they ask a question for the feedback to a student, they mostly excuse by saying, “sir, you are inaudible and leave the class.”

Virtual Classroom

“Sometimes, they make us repeat one single line for ten times, citing slow speed,” Abid said. Still, John sir believes that the female teachers are more bullied than their male counterparts.

Irfana, a teacher at Radiant School is teaching the lower primary department students. She literally has cried once when during her class someone in the background said: “yem che darbedar madme, yeman chunne kama kaara khen. Ketchen taam pounsen hind bapath darbedar gamche (These teachers have no work. This is why they are doing this job for peanuts”.

Once delivering the lecture, a parent of some student asked if she could repeat what she had taught three days earlier. “My son had gone to a relative’s place to attend a marriage,” she was told by the parent. But Irfana politely said it is a class of 40 students. “Sorry I cannot repeat that in this class,” She told the parent. This reply of Irfana infuriated the parent and he started yelling at her saying how dare she say no to him.

“I will buy your school if I wish to. I will show you your place,” the parent, she said, told her.  “This all was happening in front of the third standard students. Imagine a teacher being humiliated in front of her students,” Irfana said in a choked voice.

Irafana said that once she heard a student who had accidentally kept his microphone on telling another guy, probably his cousin that he was going out with his parents and, in case, madam asks for him, tell her he has gone to the washroom.”

After finishing her class, she called his parents and told them what their son did. “They laughed and said, madam, he is a child,” Irfana said.   

There are interesting things also happening in the online education system. One official said his teacher wife was unwell and the students connected to her phone. “She had no strength to teach but students were keen to have the class,” the official said. “It was then that my daughter suggested that she will teach the students for the day. The class was a success and it changed into a crisis. From the second day, the primary class students started demanding that – ‘why can not Didi teacher us, Mam’. Asa result of this, now both the Mom and the daughter teach the same class – sometimes both on daily basis.

Judging Teachers

To err is human. If a teacher makes a mistake, some parents humiliate them there. “It is not students whom we are teaching. It is basically judges, scientists, police officials, lecturers who are there. We have to be very cautious now. They want us to teach the kids of their level which cannot be done,” said Irfana.    

What is missing in the online mode is the classroom ambience. A teacher used to exercise control over the students. Now that is missing, so parents’ role is critical, teachers believe.

A young student in her living room connected with her teacher in an on-line class. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

Imran Ahad, a government school teacher says that though he has not experienced any such incident till now but has heard of many such stories from his colleagues. “There is no other alternative, online is the only way to learn, especially at a place that is frequented by shutdowns,” Ahad said. “As a society, we need to give it a larger acceptance and sync it with the physical classroom education.”  

Sharing his colleagues’ experience Ahad said that he was told by a parent if schools are really concerned about the studies of children, why don’t they give them phones then.

Ahad attributes this attitude of parents to their frustration with the ongoing situation. “They find the teachers soft targets and vent their ire on them,” Ahad said, adding “as a society, it is the high time to react, value teachers for their effort”. Ahad, however, said that some things need to be addressed at the official level as well. “I know what it takes to manage a class on 2G speed,” he said.

(Some names have been changed on request)

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About Author

Umar Mukhtar is a Srinagar based journalist. He is covering human rights and the changing political landscape of the valley.

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