Old-School’s Tryst with New-Age Learning in Kashmir

Apart from technical difficulties, the traditional teachers had to face mischievous students who resorted to fake ID’s, pranks and abusive comments during online classes.

SUBEENA Chiloo is in teaching for as long as she can remember. As an associate professor in Islamic Studies, she has been teaching students at historic Amar Singh College with religious commitment. Teaching a class full of students is the only thing that keeps her motivated.

But three years after being transferred from her campus to the newly-established Government College for Women at Zakura in the Srinagar outskirts, things became difficult for her as coronavirus pandemic swept the world.

Educational institutions were ordered to resume education to online mode and this is when her technophobic nature came to haunt her.

“At first things were difficult for someone like me who is not much into technology,” Subeena, who’s in her fifties, says. “For new generation, using technologically advanced gadgets is easy but for us it is difficult. Our subject was theoretical so it was not that much difficult to teach online.”

But she found it difficult to use popular teaching applications like Zoom. She had to switch multiple applications in order to not let her students suffer. She later switched to WhatsApp to teach students.

“I created WhatsApp groups for students of different batches and used to record audio messages so that students do not suffer,” she recalls. “I would also send links of relevant videos to my students.”

Despite her attempts at driving students to online classes, Subeena could find little success as many of her students did not have a smartphone.

“We tried to get the underprivileged students smartphone from the Educational Department but all our attempts failed,” she says.

But she was successful enough to do her bit by providing one of her students with a spare smartphone for attending online classes.

Roadblocks, however, continued to stop her from doing her best.

The network issue also played a spoilsport in Prof. Subeena’s journey of imparting education to her students. “The mobile network in the vicinity of our college remains poor to this day and is one of the major challenges faced by the faculty who teach from the college,” she says.

Today, she’s used to teaching online but the ‘old school’ does not feel satisfied with the new normal. Among other things she feels the eye to eye contact is missing in online classes.

Facing the same problems and challenges, senior assistant professor at Government College of Education, Dr. Nuzhat Nasreen has a story of her own.

She believes there’re no two opinions about the fact that online classes have provided students with an alternative but for professionals of her age conducting virtual classes was no less than a challenge.

Nasreen, also in her fifties, recalls the day they were ordered by the Educational Department to resume classes in an online mode. “In the beginning it was tough,” she recalls. “But my relative’s much-needed help simplified the complex for me.”

Despite putting all her efforts in teaching her students, she believes the emotional motivation a teacher can give in an offline class isn’t possible in an online classroom. But she does acknowledge that online classes have become a “good substitute” in uncertain times.

One of the major problems she has faced over the course of the last two years is the anxiety created by the new-age learning. “From getting strain in the eyes to mental stress, one has to go through a lot if one spends long hours teaching,” she says.

She attributes her mental fatigue to the absence of facing students in the class and the overuse of technological tools.

The lack of discipline and management in teaching online also turned out to be a headache for her. “In college we used to have a proper break after classes but in online classes there were clashes in timings,” she says. “There were times when we had to take classes during evenings.”

After two years of hardships, Dr. Nasreen is comfortable teaching her students online but the guilt of not satisfying every student is what discomforts her.

“In a classroom environment, some students understand things easily while some take time,” she says. “All that is missing in an online class, where every student without even understanding things is bound to feel obliged and responds positively.”

In the last two years, a lot has changed for traditional teachers like Sameena Khan in Kashmir.

When the government first gave instructions that teachers had to teach online, most of them had no knowledge about it. “But eventually,” says Sameena, a teacher at Government Boys Middle School Narbal, “we learned a lot.”

She picked up the threads of technology and learned the use of teaching applications like Zoom and popular video-streaming website, Youtube.

However, overcoming her fear for technology did not end her woes. Her students from traditional belts of Kashmir were not allowed to share their contact details with teachers. In a bid to persuade their parents, Sameena went door-to-door and counselled them.

“The parents of students were reluctant to share their phone numbers,” she recalls. “It was only after proper counselling that they gave us contact numbers of their children. Without those contact numbers, we couldn’t have been able to teach them.”

Before the pandemic, many students were unaware about the use of technology in teaching. For those students, teachers like Sameena had to walk an extra mile. “Even during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, we would designate one or two days during a week and aware students about online classes,” she says. “While the coronavirus may have left innumerable woes for people, but it made us teachers technocrats in letter and spirit.”

But despite becoming tech-savvy during pandemic, some of these traditional teachers had a hard time to teach a challenging subject like mathematics online.

“Teaching Mathematics is always a challenge,” says Javeed Khan, a mathematics teacher from Srinagar. “But teaching it online is a lot more difficult. Unlike a theoretical subject, it has to be taught using a board.”

Apart from technical difficulties, these teachers faced challenges as some students resorted to fake ID’s, pranks and even abusive comments during classes.

“The cost of keeping flame of knowledge burning during the recent dark times came at a heavy cost,” Javeed concludes.

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Syed Mohammad Burhan

Syed Mohammad Burhan has Masters in Mass Communications and works as City Reporter at Kashmir Observer. He tweets @syedmohammad313

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