Why NEP is a beacon for education and How Apeejay School students and teachers are keeping their Face to the Sun during Covid19 Shutdown.

By Rita Chatterjee

Apeejay Schools’ virtual avatar is right now so intense that I feel a great power has been set to motion and like Nicola Tessla’s invention will one day manifest in a burst of lightning and thunder, revealing a wonderful  reality that one only suspected existed. The strengthened emotional and psychological connect, exploring and experimenting with the medium of the future – digital – and realizing its effectiveness is a major gain to my mind.   

Make no mistake – Apeejay School is fully prepared to resume classes and awaits the sounds of laughter, feet pattering and the electric environment. Sanitization tunnels have been installed, classes and all surfaces are regularly sanitized, gallons of sanitization liquid is arranged for, masks stored to distribute to those children who may come without it, when we reopen.

We hope for a wise and judicious decision to be taken on school reopening that does not hamper true education, neither does it jeopardize any lives. I worry for my children.

Sharing and confiding in friends & teachers, fighting, laughing with friends and classmates and that strong sense of Tribe has been snatched away. Children are left with a vacuum that parents cannot fill up and were probably never meant to fill either! Family support systems are critical for every individual but specifically even though children are not alone at home, mingling with the same persons for a long period can be taxing. This is true for every individual, but it is overwhelmingly painful for children and teenagers.  Childhood is the period for growth that occurs through the development of multifarious skills. Skills set such as inter-personal skill, emotional skill, social skill, are a few that are imperative for the development of a wholesome personality. Covid 19 virus has robbed the children of their right to spend time with friends, that is crucial `at this age, they feel caged and seem to have lost the confidence to step out of home and lead a normal life like before. Many children are showing signs of irritation, anxiety, stress and fear whilst a few are experiencing depression and frustration in their inability to cope with the new normal and hark back to the good old days before the pandemic hit them, and all of us, so hard.

After deliberations and suggestions from medical experts and leaders in the field of child behavior, internet safety and the like we created a forum that has helped determine the dynamics of relationship at home for parents and children as well as during on – line classes between teachers and students. Meditation has now become the norm for children to pursue. Period break, manageable duration of classes to help attention and retention capacity, ease in syllabus, focus on application based learning and experiential learning has enabled the development of a healthy on –line learning system at Apeejay School with Yoga asana, Pranayama, freehand, exercises, eye exercises built in.   

Personally for me, the silver lining in this lock down has been the announcement of the National Education Policy, Just as we were moving to using technology as a full time tool of education , the NEP proclaimed Technology as the new mantra! That is a sign for the future. Using AI in education is taking education to a whole new level, and once the students are immersed in technology, NEP will encourage creative thinking, design thinking, logical decision-making and innovation.  Teaching will have no barriers when Teachers have the freedom to define the way they teach. A holistic 360-degree report card with self-assessment will lead to deeper introspection and a lasting change for students and for parents to understand their child and his growth in School. The outcome of a mammoth exercise, NEP is a firm commitment from the top leadership will change the outlook towards students and consider everyone in the system as a knowledge-seeker. Coding as a language in middle school will go a long way in unleashing creative potential.  The overhaul of the education system – right from terminologies and institutional frameworks to functionality will transform governance, delivery and financing of education. To integrate the education of the children from the age of 3 as the single foundation policy is a bold direction may achieve its aim of optimal outcome in languages, numeracy, literacy etc, and take the children away from rote learning or forced teaching.

NEP will force a change in an organized coordinated way. Take for example our Schools. The lock down announced to contain the spread of Covid 19 virus, caused a significant hiccup in the functioning of Apeejay School, during the initial days, but it was soon tided over once the on-line learning through Google Meet was initiated. Regular classes of all the major subjects and co-curricular activities became the spring board of student- teacher interaction at the outset. Thereafter further programs touching the areas of entertainment, health and well-being, and honing of talent were created and initiated. As school is a haven for children with different talents, skills and potential, hence the study plan and activities were designed to meet the demands and needs of all children; to do so on a new platform, i.e.  Digital. It was a challenging experience that the teachers of Apeejay Schools undertook. And now the journey along the apparently thorny road has smoothened considerably, with everyone happily and effectively delivering and receiving education.

It delighted me to see that just 30 days into the lock down, Teachers were back in School to complete the promotion process and after the parent –teacher meet and with the handing over of report cards, bid farewell to the previous academic session and ushered in  the academic session 2020-2021. 

Teachers created Podcasts on specific topics and general themes helping to reach students through an alternative mode of gaining knowledge. Most to benefit from Podcasts were the economically challenged, who did not have a good internet facility and was inclusive with students with visual impairment, or ADHD tendencies benefiting.

My teachers team integrated the mind, body and spirit so that the holistic element of learning was not lost. Before every virtual class children are being guided through a simple set of neck exercises, eye exercises and breathing exercise to facilitate ease in paying attention, comprehension and participation.

At Apeejay Schools, we have a solid co-curricular aspect as character building and honing of a child’s  innate talents is the school’s responsibility. Sports, Dance, Art, Music, yoga are being conducted regularly, whilst Inter-School and Intra -School Competitions are on a full-fledged scale. Debate, Quiz, Model United Nations (MUN),  Elocution, Video making, Creative writing, fashion designing, Creative Webinars, Hands-on-training in science, life skill, Awakened Citizen programmes and activities in other fields are happening. Using the digital mode to train in the above mentioned field is indeed a creative challenge and in particular to do so in Sports was and remains a gargantuan task! Discussions on theoretical aspects, the aesthetics of fine Arts, Applied Arts, brushing up and learning anew of the rules and regulations applicable to varied sporting events, discourses on dance forms, and therapeutic quality of dance are held regularly. It is practice that makes perfect, so online demonstrations are given to children who then take turns to practice and brush up their skills. Besides, pranayama (respiratory exercises) are done to boost the immunity of the children. Children have been involved and engaged in Quiz Competition, Model United Nations(MUN) sessions, Webinars on different subjects , Panel discussions, Debate competitions, Creative Writing competition. Teaching involves encouraging children to master new passions and interests, hence gardening, non-gas cooking, star gazing, making videos, and projects involving research, creating PPT’s and models using creative and innovative skills have taken place . Awakened citizen Programme, conducted in alliance with Ram Krishna Mission, is still happening, which gives me great personal joy. 

Stress busters for students and teachers alike I found was critical. Song, music, elocution, dance and enactment of short sequences were included in our online programs and led to great revelations that will us. For example ‘Reflections in the Times of the Pandemic’ , an on-line interactive webinar revealed how life has always given birth to literary creation because our students  came up with self composed poems, short stories, illustrations, lyrics and the like that show cased the effect of the pandemic in their lives.A sign of the old normal is visible to me as Teachers and students untiringly collate, edit matter for the hard copy school magazine, KARMA.

Me with Karma , Our School magazine

Hopefully Come February 2021 1000s of children will be back in the lawns of Apeejay House for the Anand Mela.

A picture from Last year with our Chairman, Mr Karan Paul

The pandemic has had a jeopardizing effect on almost all walks of life, and education too has not been exempted, with schools shut down and classrooms empty School is the haven for students and teachers and it is the meeting place for like minded and the not so like minded to interact and communicate. This is a place that is rife with thinking minds and cultural and physical actors. Naturally it is missed sorely for the scintillating life it offers.

I, now, know how a caged bird feels, unable to expand its wings, looking at the blue sky like a distant dream. Thanks to the Corona pandemic and the lockdown measures”, a student of class XII told me reflecting on how he missed school and the old normal amidst the prevailing unprecedented circumstances.

A student of class XI, commented “at a time when I was feeling so bored, the school came to my rescue, with a plethora of webinars and interactive sessions, an online MUN among the other things. But even then I miss school, I miss those tiffin breaks, those giggling in the last benches, raising our hands and also answering out of turns”. Laughing, the child added, “online system is good but has its own problems – it can never give us the feel of the classroom”.

Students at Apeejay School, Park Street, feel that strong connect, with those white and blue walls, somewhat strained by the pandemic – they now are having to adopt to the new normal of online classes, like billions of students worldwide. Once a teacher conducting class from school premises was asked, “ Ma’am, you are in school, why can’t we be there too?”

The online mode with its limited scope of human interaction makes the students feel like robots, impersonal and distant. Our biggest worry has been for our students with disabilities. Children with disabilities anyway face multiple forms of discrimination which leads to their exclusion from society and school. Attitudes toward children with disabilities, as well as a lack of resources to accommodate them, compound the challenges they face in accessing education. While lack of access to schools is an issue, an equal concern is the inability of the education system to ensure quality education for children with disabilities during the pandemic and the lockdown.

To ensure quality education for children with disabilities during the pandemic, Apeejay Schools follow our time tested inclusive education guidelines to ensure quality dissemination of equal educational opportunities. The diffferently abled students are a part of the inclusive classrooms on the digital format, along with qualitative engagement with their special educators who ensure the overall development of the students. The individualized lesson planning is based on the model of experiential learning focusing on social and life skills development. We are ensuring online and digital accessibility for children with disabilities. Likewise, learning materials are being made available in accessible formats to suit the needs of children with different types of disabilities.

”Our school had a particular essence to it, that uniform, those events, and regular classes had a definitive rhythm to it. I just hope that the new normal does not take away that rhythm forever from our lives”, another student from class IX said. The child is right – It was in schools, in those classrooms, that future citizens were groomed and souls liberated, and as the students and teachers reiterate, the pandemic must end, so that, at least the temples of learning reopen.

Amen to that !

Lets immediately get to work on NEP and I am excited about it. The New Education Policy expands age group 6-14 years of mandatory schooling to 3-18 years of schooling. The NEP introduces  uncovered three years of pre-schooling, age group of 3-6 years under the school curriculum. The new system will have 12 years of schooling with three years of Anganwadi/ pre-schooling. With an emphasis on Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE), the 10+2 structure of school curriculum is to be replaced by a 5+3+3+4 curricular structure corresponding to ages 3-8, 8-11, 11-14, and 14-18 years respectively. The NEP puts focus on students’ mother tongue as the medium of instruction and it sticks to the  ‘three language formula’ but also mandates that no language would be imposed on anyone. The NEP only recommends the mother tongue as medium of instruction, and not make it compulsory.. The combination of choices in terms of arts, social sciences/humanities and sciences has been broadened and multiple entries and exit options have been given along with credit transfer. With freedom, teachers can use a discovery-based approach, experience-based learning and blended learning tools. All of this will make education more participative and ensure knowledge transfer as opposed to the tradition of sifting through pages and memorizing content. A holistic 360-degree report card with self-assessment will lead to deeper introspection and a lasting change for students. Inspiring videos from luminaries will be a good way to reduce the curricular burden while inspiring students by showcasing role models from all walks of life.  The policy attempts a significant overhaul of the education system – right from terminologies and institutional frameworks to functionality – when it comes to transforming governance, delivery and financing of education.

Fingers Crossed to be Back in School again! Happy Ganesha Chaturthi!

Rita Chatterjee is Principal and Administrator, Apeejay Schools.

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