10 January 2022

Against All Odds – without a smartphone

By Shruti Shukla

I was born and brought up in the outskirts of the city of Hisar in a small village called Satrod Kalan. Growing up, we neither had the technology that is available for children today, nor we had teachers who would put extra effort to teach and help us understand various concepts. I was the most studious kid in my family, and so as a child, I told my parents that I'd become a teacher when I grew old. I had promised myself that I would take extra interest in the children's well-being and learning at school and beyond it and encourage them to pursue schooling to help them build a great career for themselves. So, when coronavirus started spreading rapidly and schools were shut down to contain the spread of the virus, I was scared for my children because it meant that learning would stop for them.


Coronavirus have changed everything, but it has also reminded us that whatever the odds – we need to keep pushing for things that drive us. While growing up, I always imagined being the best teacher any child could ask for. Ever since I have joined this profession, I have been nothing but grateful as I have got the opportunity to touch the lives of hundreds of children year after year, especially over the last 2 years.


Most of my children come from poor families as their parents worked on farms as laborers – and so very few of them had access to a smartphone or even a data plan. The children spent most of their time with their parents on the farm, helping them or playing with other children; learning was out of the picture. In the beginning months of the coronavirus pandemic, it was impossible for me to reach out to my students besides a telephone call, but as soon as the restrictions started to ease, my first call of action was to physically meet them and see if they were ready to start learning. While some of the children were more than happy to see me and the study material I was carrying with me, some children shied away from the idea of studying. But, I was determined not to let the closing of school affect my children's learning or let them lose track of reality. I immediately chalked out a plan to keep these children inspired to learn even when the schools were closed.


To bring the children up to momentum and start learning at home, I started frequently visiting their homes at least once a week to hand over learning material for different topics. Wherever it was possible, I carried a small chalkboard to take a class under the blue sky by gathering the students and giving them exercises to work on until my next visit. Seeing my efforts and the children's dedication, even the parents started to appreciate what I was trying to do for their children. Hence, they started encouraging the kids to take learning seriously and welcomed me into their homes to understand why I was doing what I was doing.


Some of the intelligent students took extra initiative to not only to learn themselves with the help of the notes that I provided but also homeschool or teach younger students living in their neighborhood. Seeing these gestures from my children for other kids reminded me of my childhood, how I helped my friends learn concepts and understand them. It also reminded me why I wanted to become a teacher in the first place.


Now that we have returned to school after over a year (though the third wave is upon us now), I feel even more confident for my children because they have helped keep up the learning momentum. Even though the results aren't as fruitful as I had believed them to be, but even the fact that the children are motivated enough to learn at school is more than enough for us teachers, who struggled to bring children to school during normal days.


In the end, I can only say that the coronavirus pandemic has affected each one of our lives, but I also believe that it has brought us even closer as a community – to uplift and take care of each other when the going gets tough. It has also taught me that there is more passion in each one of us, especially the children, who against all the odds, wanted to learn and not lose focus from studies which kept me going, motivated me, and encouraged me to walk that extra mile. And of course, we can do this without a smartphone!


(The writer is a teacher with Govt. Primary School, Gunjar, Haryana. Views expressed are her personal.)