The 1st of June here at Kerala is the day schools reopen after the long summer vacations. The kids are almost always welcomed by a spell of rain as they get ready for their return back to their new classes – excited with their new uniform, shoes and popy umbrellas. But, this June 1st of 2020 was kind of different.
Instead of reaching out for their umbrellas , they were reaching out for their WiFis, instead of a classroom, they had a microsoft team and instead of their teacher welcoming them to their subjects, they had received a calendar invite for their online classes. As class begins, they are greeted with novel visuals. Their growing classmates ( 2 months of home quarantine has its effect on kids as well )can’t seem to be fitting inside the screen box. They have a whiteboard instead of a blackboard and their teachers are shouting students please mute, please mute instead of students silence please. Even their attendance is being taken by Bill gates uncle and knowingly or unknowingly all their movements are tracked.
My mother, with only a few more months before her retirement is finding all this a bit overwhelming. As she preps the students of class 9 on MS teams for their first online English class , I tune in. The lesson is ” The fun they had” by Issac Asimov who talks about the conversation between two kids in the year 2157 who discover a “real” book with yellow pages which crumble and letters which do not change even if the page is turned. They go on to discuss about the concept of a classroom , with a real human teacher and a common place called school where students used to go to learn and do a lot more. They are amused and amazed to know of such a reality , very different from the computers, e-books and robot teachers they are accustomed with.
But here, the 9th class of 2020 was back in the future, with the lesson laid out in the year 2157 seem more relatable to them than the protagonists of the story. Lot has changed for them as well as the teachers , especially in India where a physical school – the temple of learning is quite irreplaceable with its personal connections – benchmates, classmates & teachers, morning assemblies, scribbled desks, lunch breaks and endless fun.
As my mum comes out of her second session for the day, she looks puzzled. On asking, she tells me that the kids were muting her all through the call. I heave a sigh of relief – kids will be kids – online or offline.