The education system is, what educationist and philosopher Paulo Freire equated with a banking system. Teachers are merely reduced to being administrators who are expected to tick off the syllabus, prescribed teaching methods (now apps), and assessment methods and prepare students on how well do they reiterate the books. In the present time when the pandemic of covid-19 has brought the world to a standstill, teachers are expected to impose “normalcy” by showing our ability by following the university orders. The working conditions are far more stressful now. The strain of spending long hours in front of the screen and managing household work adds to the increased burden. For many teachers, the switch to online teaching turned out to be a hassle. We cannot dismiss the fact that for many, the expectation for an overnight adaptation to this new method overnight may have been a huge struggle.
Teachers are expected to suffer silently and dismiss our own stories of struggle because “we are teachers” but what about the students? Did the system, the authority guiding it think enough about the students? There is a huge difference between the teachers and students in terms of how we experience and understand the world around us. Whether we accept it or not but the current generation’s understanding and coping with stress is starkly different. Moreover, the student population is far from being homogeneous. Do we, as teachers, know the daily life of all our students? Do we know their daily struggles? How do we expect students to handle so much stress? How do we hope to replicate a regular college life in an environment where there is so much uncertainty? A final year student told me, “we are more stressed than you are about our studies, career, and future” and there is much sense in this.
The university should stop pretending that things are normal, no they are not and we cannot make them normal by refusing to acknowledge human needs. This is time to support each other, to become empathetic. We need to be mindful of the psychological stress that this pandemic and lockdown has brought about. Some students don’t have the binder and it is convenient for us to say that they can download when we ourselves know that ebooks or soft copies cannot replace the hard copy. When the proposal about the online exam was reported in the media, a student called me and inquired, “What about us Hindi medium students? How will we type?” Can we imagine the panic? A student from J&K called to share that there is only 2g internet and that she cannot go out to her relative’s place which has Wifi. What about students who have been stuck in their PG? What about those who could not attend zoom classes because of internet issues? These questions are all queries that we teachers have been handling. We need to stop pretending that things are normal. We need to find solutions which are just, which are humane. We need to systematically think that what is possible and is inclusive. The system needs to realize what it is dealing with, not just with careers but with over-worked and panicked students and teachers.
Devika Mittal works as an assistant professor of sociology in an undergraduate college of Delhi University. She tweets at @devikasmittal.