Kolkata: Anu Kumari, preparing for the mandatory National Eligibility Cum Entrance Test (NEET), misses her classroom at the coaching centre. But with virtual classes she has been able to revise her subjects even during the lockdown.
Sahiba Praveen, also preparing for NEET, feels virtual classes, though helpful, are fraught with technical issues. “Firstly, there are connectivity problems. Then, during online tests, while requesting for a change in question I lost time as it took a while to address my request. The time lapse is an irritant. Also, I have to wait till after class to clear my doubts,” she says.
Students at coaching centres preparing for NEET or Joint Entrance Examination (JEE), along with the teachers, have been pushed abruptly into the unchartered realm of virtual classes. Most of them are learning to cope with the system. Educators too are finding it hard to adjust to the new normal while trying to stay relevant.
Mukesh Kumar Singh, physics faculty at Goal Institute in Dhanbad, Jharkhand, says that teaching online has put extra responsibility on teachers. “We have devised ways where the virtual classes mirror offline ones. We have live sessions to clear out doubts. Even after the classes we have sessions to sort out confusions. So the involvement in terms of time is much more now,” says Singh.
He adds that at times there are network issues. “Platforms like Zoom cannot support high-speed data. Our institute has a personalised app which is quite helpful in this regard. But we still have to deal with network issues, downloads not getting through and such other problems. Since most of our teachers are engineers we are exploring options where less data is consumed and better speed is available,” adds Singh.
Debdutta Sreemany, founder chairman of Pathfinder in Kolkata says that virtual classes have a wide reach. “We have students in remote villages who do not have a laptop or tablet. They use smartphones for classes which get heated if you use it continuously for 45 minutes or so. Keeping that in mind we avoid lengthy classes,” says Sreemany. He also feels that virtual classes cannot replicate human presence. Eye contact, body language and the expressions of students play an important role while teaching, which virtual classes cannot provide.
Virtual Classes to the Rescue
Coaching centres are using softwares that allow the screen to be turned into a whiteboard. Additional information is sent to students after the class in PDF format. Videos and voice messages are also used. Worksheets are sent to the students to assess the progress. Teachers are working from home and it means they are more or less working round the clock.
Despite all the hassles, Singh bats for virtual classes. “Virtual classes have helped maintain the continuity of studies otherwise it would have caused irreversible damage to the students,” says Singh, adding, “Virtual classes also offer students the opportunity to explore sample questions, books in PDF format.”
Nivedita Das, joint head of admissions, Pathfinder says, “Earlier if 40 students had one teacher, now one educator is teaching only 20-25 students. This has enhanced the productivity.”
Lockdown Impact on Business
Students usually join coaching classes from Class VIII and IX in preparation for the competitive exams. The most crucial months for admission at coaching centres is from April to June. But due to the lockdown no offline admissions took place.
The biggest concern for coaching centres has been the inability of the parents to pay fees on time. While declining to comment on the mode of payment Sreemany shares, “Many parents have been requesting us to delay payments of fees since they have either lost their job or suffered pay cuts. We understand their concern. But then we also have to keep in mind that our teachers are professionals. They may not agree to teach if we pay them a lesser amount or delay payments.”
Sanjay Anand, centre director, Goal Institute, concurs with Sreemany and adds “There has been a dip in business by approximately 30-40%. Many of the students are either waiting for offline classes to resume or the Class X & XII exams to be over.” He says, “We are expecting normal classes to restart from the first week of July or latest by July 15th. Once the classroom sessions start teachers will have to finish the syllabus with fewer number of students in class due to social distancing.” Aakash Institute’s Amitabh Roy shares that his institute too suffered losses due to the lockdown.