Education in post-COVID times: The road to recovery

Recovering: Students of Clark Memorial Higher Secondary School, Impur under Mokokchung district in their school campus. (Morung Photo)

Recovering: Students of Clark Memorial Higher Secondary School, Impur under Mokokchung district in their school campus. (Morung Photo)

Dimapur | March 27

In April 2020, Chubainla, an educator in the northeastern state of Nagaland recollects calling her team for a meeting and dispersing from the school “feeling zero and with question marks.” 

In an effort to slow the spread of Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Nagaland State government had issued an order for school closure and shifting to online learning. Describing it as ‘unexpected time,’ Chubainla, principal of Clark Memorial Higher Secondary School says, “My first response was what is happening, what to do and how to go about?”

View of Clark Memorial Higher Secondary School, Impur which is the ‘oldest surviving American Missionary heritage school’ in Nagaland. It was established on April 11, 1895. (Morung Photo)

2023 marks three years since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. From inadequate internet access to low and middle income instability to lack of awareness were some injustice exposed when COVID-19 crisis forced schools to close down across the country. 

Despite the learning and re-learning, educational institutions have not given up the quest for education and one such institute is the Clark Memorial Higher Secondary School (CMHSS). Located at a ‘central place’ called Impur under Mokokchung district, CMHSS is the ‘oldest surviving American Missionary heritage school’ in Nagaland. It was established on April 11, 1895.

For an institute as old as 128 years, CMHSS still struggles to make up for the pandemic years. 

Persistent inequalities 
With an enrollment of over 300 students mostly from low-income families the school ‘struggled a lot’ to adapt online learning. Most families did not own a mobile phone. “It took a long time for the class teachers even to get started with class wise WhatsApp group,” recalls Chubainla who has been in CMHSS for past 23 years. 

For students residing in far-off villages, helped came in the form of neighbours, local people, and relatives who offered their mobile phones during class hours.

“My two children, Class 9 and 10 students came back to the village. We did not own a Smartphone. It was one of the most worrying times for us,” says a mother residing in Longmisa, another village under Mokokchung district. 

“During this hard time, the Youth Director in our village Church came to our help. Despite other work commitments, he offered his mobile for my children’s classes,” she said. 

The mother, whose spouse works as the village church chowkidar, reveals ‘Smartphone was beyond their economic capacity.’ “Thankfully in the second year of the lockdown, my children received student scholarship of Rs 7050 each from the government and we could buy a Smartphone.” 

Imlilemla was in Class 7 when the first lockdown hit. “We had only one Smartphone at home. My sister and I had classes and test at the same time but somehow we managed. It was either her or me missing the classes,” she shares. Now a Class 9 student, she says another practical difficulty was lack of access to stationeries and printing machines. 

Navigating challenges
Face to face interaction through gadgets posed a massive challenge. Conversely, it also introduced digital education and virtual classes. “The teachers had all gone back to their respective homes. But after facing difficulties, we decided to call them back to campus. Under strict supervision and following COVID-19 standard precautionary measures, we formulated a system for the teachers to conduct zoom classes and exams from the school,” Chubainla said. 

Duty-bound, the teachers scaled another level. “None of us were equipped but it did not stop us from being teachers,” cites Repakokla who has been teaching in CMHSS for past 22 years. 

“In villages where students lacked mobile phones and internet, we paired them up. We made personal calls to assist the performances of weaker students, to guide them by ways of giving suggestions… we walked the extra mile to make sure our students were not missing out but at times we have fallen short,” she remarks. 

Coping with learning losses 
In 2020, Meyilong Ao was a bright student in Class 7. Reflecting on the lockdown period, he regrets getting ‘a little bit too laid back.’ “With the attitude that anyone can do online classes, I took it very lightly. Class 8 was my worst performance year,” Meyilong, now 16 years old admits. 

Right after the school reopened, he decided to ‘built himself up again.’ He says, “I got addicted to screen time so I gave away my mobile phone. My parents arranged the time table for me to get back on the track. They sponsored extra tuition for mathematic. I see improvement in my math now.”

“Everyone was an online class topper. We have cheated ourselves,” says this young student aspiring to be a business investor, “But our teachers helped us.” The CMHSS teachers got much deeper with the lessons, took it in a slow phase, and revised every chapter again. “The teachers here are the best. I can never forget how much they have helped me in the recovery year,” says Meyilong.

“After the lockdown was lifted we decided not to go back to the text books immediately. It was important for the students to be friends with books; we did recapitulating the past lessons conducted through online,” the principal said.

Students were struggling with reading and writing. It ‘took a long time’ to bring back the feel of normal physical classes. She says, “We had to remind the students of the classroom experiences and gave them time to actually familiarize with the physical classes.” 

“Post-pandemic, generally their energy is lethargic. Attention span is very short,” says Repakokla. Their articulating skills had declined and ‘the gap was very visible,’ she adds. ‘Activity and experiential learning’ is a common tactic teachers are using to keep the students engaged.

To help deal with learning losses, the Nagaland state education department regularly conducts surveys and assessments, have introduced activities and various programmes. NCERT has rationalised syllabus for some classes, likewise Nagaland Board of School Education has also reduced the syllabus range ‘to reduce the work load for students and compensate lost teaching days.’

The way forward 
“This pandemic has debunked the notion that education is possible only inside a classroom. It has been proven that parental involvement is very important,” asserts Repakokla. In continuity, CMHSS is giving attention to the aspects of digital education, which she recommends for all the schools. Teachers were compelled to find creative ways to engage the students and help them cope with the shift, which she feels should be encouraged even post-pandemic. 

Meyilong says the new system of phase-wise examination is helpful. “Before the pandemic we had first, second and third term for every chapter with no gap but after the physical classes have started, we have phase 1 and phase 2. Reduced syllabus and suggestions from teachers are appreciated,” he added. 

Going by numbers, at 128 CMHSS would have been probably one of the most advanced schools in Nagaland but that is not the case. After the extended closures due to the COVID-19-induced lockdown, the challenges still ‘lingers.’ 

“We are based and tied on traditional system of education. In order to get out of this traditional system, we switched to Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation but here parents do not take seriously,” the principal said. With or without COVID-19, she adds, “Unless and until there is an understanding that educational institutions are for all-round development, we will be always behind. We have to move according to the times. We need to keep the pace with the changes happening around us.”