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NEW DELHI: A teacher at a Delhi corporation school overcame his first challenge – turn his chalk and duster lesson into a video module – but stumbled at the second. How would he ensure the student with a prepaid SIM had enough data to download and play all video lessons?

In the six months since schools across India switched to online classes, those like Surender Singh – one of the 45 teachers who President Ram Nath Kovind will confer with a National Award today – have had to find new troubleshooting skills every other day. It has also meant mastering Zoom and Hangouts classes, recording lectures and posting them via email and WhatsApp, collecting and correcting homework using digital tools and turning textbook chapters into engaging radio and TV programmes.

But the learning arc hasn’t stopped at technology. Virtual classrooms are a whole new universe and bring very different social and learning challenges. Those of us who don’t teach can imagine a meeting call while working from home – the general difficulty of making ourselves understood (or even heard through the patchy networks), the disruptive power of one unmuted mic and the commotion of many. Teachers have the same setting but with groups of kids with shorter attention spans and many more distractions. “Sometimes, they’d be eating or drinking. Or just wandering off,” says Mridula Pattanath (50), who teaches at DPS Gurgaon (Sector 45).

Since the pandemic struck, teachers have silently overcome many such challenges, thinking on their feet and with little time to adapt, holding our education system together with innovation and sheer resilience. On Teacher’s Day, we bring you 10 accounts of this trying journey that has changed both teaching and learning as we know it.

Blackboard, chalk and duster for 28 years. Now suddenly, laptop and YouTube

Neelam Gupta, associate professor (financial management & statistics), BR Ambedkar College, Delhi University

For 28 years, I used conventional methods to teach. All of a sudden, it has drastically changed. Previously, we did not have computers, lab facilities or projectors to facilitate our teaching in colleges. Blackboard, chalk and duster were the means to teach. But now, I am actively using my laptop, digital pen, tablet, a mic system, videos and YouTube for my teaching.

It has become tougher to explain practical aspects of subjects such as maths, statistics, financial management, accounts and income-tax. Moreover, there is limited teacher-student interaction and one can’t check up on them, find out if they are studying or not. It is also difficult to give attention to individual students.

Can you please recharge our internet: Voice note from a student’s sister

Surender Singh, teacher at municipal corporation school in north Delhi

The coronavirus has forced everyone indoors and the suspension of physical classes has had an impact on the little ones. Virtual classes are very new to both students and teachers. We have had to first learn the technology and then start using it. Many teachers struggled with it in the initial days. But once the digital classes began, we realized students were missing the finer points of lessons. Learning was incomplete. So, instead of voice notes, we decided to record lectures and send videos to the students. This showed much better results.

But even if you master the technology, other problems can present themselves. One day, I received a voice message from a student’s sister that said he could not play the video as internet wasn’t available. “My father doesn’t have the money to recharge the phone. My brother is dejected. Can you please help recharge the phone? If he studies, he will earn and one day pay you back,” said the message. The poignant message moved me. I recharged data on the number. The boy has been performing well in class.

Having said that, both teachers and students are now much more comfortable with virtual classes than before.

Very few students unmute or switch on the camera

Chaity Das, assistant professor (English), Kalindi College, Delhi University

When you no longer have students in front of you, no eye contact and no immediate feedback, teaching becomes an entirely different experience. The attention of students also suffers. they may not be as tuned in or consider themselves as accountable as in the physical classroom. Getting used to technology and features of a software is also something that happens gradually. All said and done, it (online classes) has taken away the unpredictable joys of a classroom. However, the quality of teaching may not be too affected. Teachers are reinventing themselves; it’s a learning curve for both. Some students are responding well, they understand the challenges and the responsibility. Network disturbances remain a huge problem.

Students might have very different household environments and this also needs to be factored in. For teachers, too, the home and the workplace coalescing has its own challenges. Very few students unmute themselves or switch the camera on. It could be due to privacy issues but it also has an individual and social aspect.

Social discomfort may be due to issues that require special attention. Normally, students would approach you for mentoring or counselling after a lecture. It would be spontaneous, perhaps triggered by a class discussion. Not anymore. Confidence-building will suffer in this slightly detached mode. Social inequality can be best addressed in a more tactile, physical environment.

As for academics, the loss of a real space of communication and its transformation into a virtual one has turned the teacher-student relationship into a more distant one, and the more vocal ones may unwittingly end up getting more attention than the others. In a classroom, you can tell from the expressions if a student has understood the lecture. Now, that is not possible. However, we are evolving.

Out of bed and straight into class. Kids find it too convenient

Mridula Pattanath, teacher at DPS Sector 45, Gurgaon

Initially, it was very challenging. The kids are really young. They didn’t know to come to the screen, how to click. We had to have parents helping them. Sometimes, they’d be eating or drinking. Or just wandering off. But as months progressed, we saw the change. They are more confident, and we are figuring out the best ways to keep them engaged.

Technology keeps changing. It can be daunting. But teaching methods have quickly changed and become so much more innovative in such a short time. We plan videos, do experiments, use virtual reality. If I have to teach children how to write A, I can send a quick video. When we used augmented reality to teach kids about lions, even parents were fascinated.

What I have tried to do is keep classes very interactive. If there is an element of play, children will be drawn in. We have no more than 13-14 children in a class, so they can all be seen on one screen. The small class size helps. You can talk individually to each child. You have time for feedback, you can ask how their day was. And there are two teachers — one main and one assisting.

The only challenge I foresee is getting my kids back to regular school, whenever that happens.

The other day, I was told that a child had told his parent, “Mere ko toh yeh class achchha lagta hai, yehi class attend karoonga.”

Mridula Pattanath

It’s easy to get out of bed and sit in front of a computer. So that might be a challenge, weaning students off staying at home.

One mobile at home and 3 kids. So tasks are sent in 2 shifts

Manoj Lakra, teacher at a govt school in Gurgaon (will receive a National Award today)

Everything has moved to WhatsApp. But kids who come to my school are from poor families. They don’t all have tools for digital learning. In the button wala phone, children are getting SMSes with some lessons. The Haryana government has tied up with DTH service providers to telecast lessons. This helps children who don’t have phones. But what about kids who have don’t have a TV either? I don’t know how fruitful it is, but we are trying every possible way to keep our students in school.

What the lockdown taught us is that we should always be prepared for disasters. Some challenges have been sorted out, but others remain. Now, there may be one mobile at home and three children. Then what? So one child sends back the assignment in the evening, another the next morning. We have to allow that.

I have been a Hindi teacher for 20 years. I am interested in technology and believe it can help solve many problems. When the lockdown began, I realised there is a need to go beyond the usual. If I tell the kids about a volcano, they’ll say, “Show me.” Now, I don’t have a projector or a computer. So I made one — a one foot by one foot device, which I call mobile TV without electricity. It acts like a projector.

We also came up with a VR (virtual reality) device for Rs 10, with a cardboard box and two lenses. This is all basic technology, nothing complicated.

Manoj Lakra

Teaching from home: ‘Ma’am, your sofa is looking nice’

Isha Singh, assistant professor (applied sciences and humanities), University of Lucknow

I am not tech savvy and had never taught online. And my first lecture on Zoom — it was on Tagore’s views on nationalism — was filled with lags and glitches. Students couldn’t hear me properly and I had to mute all of them to get some semblance of continuity. But since then, I have learnt how to teach online better and developed ways to make lectures interesting online. For example, I use a lot of PowerPoint presentations. I keep explaining with each slide. I think students understand things better if there’s a slide on the screen. I have recorded my lectures on various topics and uploaded them on my personal YouTube channel. This is because many students have poor connectivity or don’t have that much data, and often miss lectures. But they can see them online. I have put 30 such videos online.

After every lecture, I keep 10 minutes aside to answer questions and interact with students. It’s important right now to stay accessible to students over various online platforms. In the absence of physical classes, they feel confused and lost.

The drawback of online learning is that the batch size is greatly reduced. If I have 40 students in a class, only 25 end up attending. The rest are not able to because of poor connectivity or lack of enough data or absence of a mobile or phone or laptop.

Isha Singh

Of those that attend, some turn their audio and video off and I realise later they have left. But in the initial few lectures, students were very interested to attend. It was the first time they were seeing us teachers in our homes and would comment that we are looking nice, or a curtain or sofa is looking nice.

Slow internet is a big problem

Anjali Kulkarni, assistant professor (botany), Savitribai Phule Pune University

Many of our students are in villages and small towns and didn’t have the necessary bandwidth to attend online classes. So, in the first class…it was on Zoom, students were continuously entering and exiting the classroom because of poor net connection which was distracting for both me and other students. Then botany is figure-intensive subject and there are a lot of drawings. All these images take up a lot of space and make the app slow. Even if I record the lecture with PPTs, the files are difficult to download on a weak net connection or with little data.

To make the app work better I would mute the students and keep their video off but then it would rob me of audio-visual cues, which are necessary to figure out whether they have understood. To overcome this problem, I take a short break every once in a while and ask them if they have understood the concept or not. Or, I conduct a short quiz.

There’s a positive side too to online teaching. At least students are continuing their learning. The other alternative — as was suggested by the government — was to declare this year a zero academic year, which was not ideal.

When the student told the teacher, ‘No homework, vacations are on’

Shobha Bhagat, special educator at Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya in Delhi

A funny incident happened during the lockdown with one of my students. As I called her, gave her assignments and asked her to send me her work, she clearly refused. “Mujhe nahin karna koi kaam, kyunki meri chhutti hai (I’m on holiday, I won’t do any assignments),” she told me. Her innocent but frank remark made me smile. This was the same child who rarely expressed her thoughts in the classroom. But on the phone, she was speaking confidently with me.

But there are parents too who are not well prepared and are unable to manage their children’s learning and technology.

From conference calls to workbook delivery and pickup

Aastha Rayal, teacher at Rajkiya Inter College, Uttarakhand

Our school has 150 kids. But since the lockdown began, we have only been able to reach out to 90. Some don’t have phones. Sometimes, there is no power for three days. Some live in villages where everything is solar-powered. If there is a long spell of rain, they get cut off. There are others who are shy about talking on the phone.

When the lockdown started, for a month, I could not do anything. Then I thought of making conference calls. I would sit with three phones, dial as many children as I could and hold the class on the phone. I would do this thrice — at 11.30am, 12.30pm and 3.30pm. For students who didn’t have phones, we made workbooks. That helped a lot. We appointed village agents, who went around dropping the workbooks and picking them up again after a few days. This way, most students could stay in touch with studies.

But I teach level one students. We divide students on the basis of learning levels — those who can read paragraphs are in level three, those who can read lines are level two and those who are still making sense of words and sounds are on level one. That has students from class VI-IX, so WhatsApp may not help. Workbooks would not either. I would need to teach them in person.

Thankfully, there has been no Covid case in my village. So I have gradually started bringing them back in very small batches of 10-12. They sit far apart, wearing masks, and come in two batches..

More screen time has become a concern for all

Vidhu Narayan, science teacher, Sardar Patel Vidyalaya, New Delhi

From interacting with animated kids in class, we are now staring at an inanimate object – our devices. We are learning to teach all over again. Lack of connect, group work, cooperative and collaborative learning have hindered the teaching-learning process.

It wasn’t difficult to switch to online teaching as far the use of technology was concerned. The hard part was looking for ways to keep the students engaged during online classes. It was harder to make connections with students, to be able to reach out to them. There were times when I felt that I was losing some of the kids. At the same time, as a teacher it was essential to provide hope. But the challenges that we are still struggling with are uninterrupted power supply and network connectivity. These have been hindrances in the learning process.

The reaction of parents to online teaching has been mixed. Many of them are happy that learning continues and that their child is productively engaged at home. Because of the pandemic, they don’t want to send their child to school and online learning is the only alternative available as of now. But the time spent on screen has become a cause for concern for all.

The Times of India is an Indian English-language daily newspaper owned by The Times Group. It is the third-largest newspaper in India by circulation and largest selling English-language daily in the world. according to Audit Bureau of Circulations.

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INDIA

India calls for complete ceasing of support to terrorist forces in Middle East

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UNITED NATIONS: India has called on all concerned parties to completely stop supporting terrorist forces, like the ISIS, while urging all stakeholders in the Middle East to work constructively for peace, stability and development.

India underscored that it has invested considerably in the peace and stability of the region by deploying its personnel as part of UN peacekeeping forces, through humanitarian assistance, development cooperation, capacity building, and will continue contributing towards peace-building in the Middle East.

“India calls on concerned parties to completely stop support to terrorist forces, like ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and others. India also urges all parties in the region to work constructively and in good faith to promote peace, stability and development for the benefit of all people in the Middle East,” India said in a written statement on Monday on the Security Council’s open debate on ‘The Situation in the Middle East’.

India said the truce between Israel and the Hamas has eased the humanitarian situation in Gaza and expressed hope that the temporary truce is converted into a permanent ceasefire, which can save precious human lives on both sides and create a conducive environment for talks.

“It is an unfortunate reality that the interlinked and mutually reinforcing challenges faced by the people of the Middle East have not yet been resolved. Political instability, long-festering conflicts, sectarian divides, issue of refugees and terrorism continue to plague the region. The COVID-pandemic has only exacerbated the threats posed by these challenges,” India said.

The statement made India’s permanent representative to the UN, Ambassador T S Tirumurti, will go as part of the official record of the Council.

India said it appreciates the agreement between Fatah and Hamas for holding Parliamentary and Presidential elections and also elections for the Palestinian National Council, which will help fulfill the democratic aspirations of the Palestinian people.

India also welcomed the agreements for normalisation of relations between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain. “India has always supported peace and stability in West Asia, which is our extended neighbourhood,” India said.

Further, India said the commencement of discussions on the disputed border between Israel and Lebanon is a significant development, expressing hope that this will provide an opportunity to resolve the longstanding issue between the two countries.

India highlighted that Palestinian aspirations for a sovereign and independent state are yet to be fulfilled and stressed that New Delhi has been unwavering in its commitment to the Palestinian cause and continues to remain supportive of a peaceful negotiated resolution of the Palestinian issue.

“India has supported the two-state solution as a just and acceptable solution to the conflict. Establishment of a Palestinian State living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel, within mutually agreed borders should be achieved through negotiations directly by the two parties,” India said adding that any stalemate could strengthen the hands of extremists and shut the door to cooperation thereby jeopardising the security, stability and prosperity of the people on both sides and the region.

Accordingly, India urged Israel and Palestine to resume direct negotiations at the earliest and called upon the international community to take concrete steps towards resuming and facilitating these negotiations quickly.

India noted that the decade-long armed conflict in Syria has claimed over 400,000 lives, displaced 6.2 million people internally and compelled another 6.3 million people to seek shelter in neighbouring countries.

“While we are heartened to see return of normalcy to major parts of the country, we are also reminded of the enormous resources that would be required to provide urgent humanitarian aid, rebuild infrastructure, enable return of the refugees and restore a normal and dignified life of all Syrians,” the statement said.

India said in the statement that it is not only contributing to the return of normalcy and rebuilding of Syria, but has also consistently called for a comprehensive and peaceful resolution of the Syrian conflict through a Syrian-led dialogue, taking into account the legitimate aspirations of the people of Syria.

India voiced concern over the security and humanitarian situation in Yemen and said the recent exchange of prisoners by the Government of Yemen and Ansar Allah, who had been detained in connection with the conflict, is a welcome development.

“India hopes that the parties will take more confidence building measures to provide the necessary impetus for the full implementation of the Stockholm Agreement,” the statement read.

India also hopes for peace and stability in Iraq with full respect for Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

India noted that in the aftermath of the August blast that brought destruction to vast swathes of Beirut and inflicted heavy loss of lives, India stood in solidarity with Lebanon.

New Delhi sent emergency humanitarian aid of over 58 metric tons to Beirut. “We look forward to the swift formation of a new government that can offer political stability and also tackle the grave socio-economic challenges being faced by the people of Lebanon,” the statement said.

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US, India must focus on threat posed by China: Secretary of state Mike Pompeo

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NEW DELHI: US secretary of state Mike Pompeo on Tuesday stressed on the need for Washington and New Delhi to work together to counter the threat posed by Beijing to “security and freedom”

Pompeo’s comment came during the crucial 2+2 dialogue between India and the US, which saw the signing of a crucial defence agreement between the two countries.

“There is much more work to do for sure. We have a lot to discuss today: Our cooperation on the pandemic that originated in Wuhan, to confronting the Chinese Communist Party’s threats to security and freedom to promoting peace and stability throughout the region,” Pompeo said during talks with defence minister Rajnath Singh and external affairs minister S Jaishankar. Pompeo was joined by defence secretary Mark Esper.

Esper too focussed on the apparent threat posed by China, specifically in the Indo-Pacific region.

“Our focus now must be on institutionalising and regularising our cooperation to meet the challenges of the day and uphold the principles of a free and open Indo-Pacific well into the future,” Esper said.

The comments assume significance as India is locked in a border standoff with China in eastern Ladakh.

In June this year, 20 Indian soldiers and an unspecified number of PLA soldiers were killed in a clash with Chinese troops in Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh, hardening the mood in India against China and driving Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to seek closer military ties with the United States.

In the US, President Donald Trump has made being tough on China a key part of his campaign to secure a second term in next week’s presidential election and Pompeo has been trying to bolster allies to counter China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

This month, India invited Australia to join naval drills it holds each year with the United States and Japan, brushing off Chinese concerns that the exercises destabilise the region.

(With inputs from agencies)

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defence Secretary Mark Esper meet NSA Doval

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NEW DELHI: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark T Esper on Tuesday held talks with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, covering key aspects of growing strategic ties between the two countries.

Issues of strategic importance were discussed at the meeting, sources said.

The meeting took place ahead of the third edition of 2+2 ministerial dialogue. Esper and Pompeo arrived here on Monday for the crucial talks aimed at further boosting the defence and security ties between the two countries.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar held separate talks with their US counterparts on Monday.

Earlier on Tuesday, both the top US administration officials visited the National War Memorial and paid tributes to India’s fallen heroes.

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