A teacher by profession, Anupa Gnanakan has a passion for quality, meaningful, relevant and student-centered education to children from all backgrounds, with a focus on turning schools into places where children feel safe, happy and excited, by inculcating a curiosity to learn and discover.
With a BA in Psychology, Anupa Gnanakan is a trained Montessori teacher who later pursued a Post Graduate Diploma in The Comprehensive Management of Teaching Children with Learning Difficulties, and an MA in Special and Inclusive Education from the University of Northampton. After 15 years of teaching in various schools across Bangalore, she is now the Director – Education at the ACTS Group of Institutions, an NGO that is dedicated to providing quality and accessible education to the community.
The novel coronavirus pandemic has led to the closure of schools for over a year now. It has been a long year of uncertainty, change, trying to adapt, experimenting, shifting of the learning process online, adjusting mindsets, and growth for all in the field of education. It has also been a year of trying to fill in the digital and learning gaps that this whole shift has led to.
With the reopening of schools being next on the agenda, apart from making sure that all the health and safety precautions are in place, the education system now has to deal with how to bridge the growing digital and learning divide. The extended closure of schools has also affected the emotional and mental wellbeing of students.
Having set the context, what do I think is the way forward for the education system? Below are my thoughts which are solely based on the experiences and realisations that we have had the past year and a half.
One of the most obvious key elements of the future is Technology. We educators have evaded this for so long now, and the pandemic forced us to start experimenting. Teachers and students are now using technology with ease and expertise, and I believe that this is something that we need to hold on to. The use of technology to support both teaching and learning has the power to transform the educational system, and can increase productivity.
Going forward, I believe that the use of Blended Learning opportunities can break down the walls of traditional teaching. If this can be incorporated into the school system, Blended Learning can offer flexibility, in terms of availability and time frames, it can cater to the diverse learners and their needs, can meet the students’ levels of interests, and offer easy access to global materials and resources. Blended Learning offers a multitude of real-world skills that directly translate into life skills, which is something that we need to prepare our students for the future.
The online classroom has made the teacher have more faith in the student, which has in turn made the student less dependent on the teacher. Indian students are now researching, self-learning, self-engaging, self-driven, thinking critically, being creative, solving problems, digitally literate, and making decisions on their own. All these skills are what students require to be lifelong learners, and to thrive in today’s world. We need to thank the pandemic for making this happen. And even if things do go back to normal, I hope that all schools will focus on these 21st Century Learning skills and the importance of equipping our students with these skills.
Apart from many other things, the global pandemic has had a tremendous impact on the mental health of students, which has led to an urgent need for Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) to be integrated into the classroom. Schools really need to work towards the psychological well being of students, to help them succeed and reach their fullest potential, both inside and outside the classroom. Research shows that SEL can also improve academic performance as well.
In a world where there is continuous religious and racial unrest, lack of empathy, inequality, human rights violations and poverty, Global Citizenship Education (GCED) can respond to these challenges as it provides students with the understanding, skills and values that they need to work towards a safe, just, tolerant and inclusive society. We really need to equip our future citizens to be able to contribute responsibly and peacefully to their communities. In the words of Haim Ginott, the Israaeli educational psychologist, “My request is this: Help your children become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths or educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human”.
The NEP2020’s recommendation of the mother tongue as the medium of instruction, at least until Grade 5, is what I believe to be a sustainable way forward. This can help in keeping students engaged and interested in the learning process, will help them feel at home, and most importantly, will help build a strong foundation for reading, writing and arithmetic in children. I have seen this work in a small school that I work closely with, which is why I highly recommend this.
The teaching and learning process involves not only the student but the teacher as well. No more can one just teach out of a textbook anymore. We are teaching students who already have enough information at their fingertips, and they have the tools they need to uncover a wealth of facts and knowledge independently. Teachers now need to evolve into a position where they help students understand how to learn, to love learning, and how to uncover, understand and process the information that they find. The new normal needs the teacher to be a researcher and a learner, to constantly adapt, change, and reinvent along the way, and it is up to us school leaders to train and equip our teachers with these skills.
A lot of bad has come from this pandemic, but a lot of good has come out of it as well. We have had this amazing chance to relook at, redefine and reset our education system and practices. We will be foolish to ignore this and go back to how things used to be. We all need to make an effort to hold on to all that we have learnt during this time, and mindfully implement this learning as we move forward.
I would like to end with a quote from Dwayne Reed, America’s favourite rapping teacher, who said, “My hope is that our new normal, today, exposes what was wrong with our old normal, yesterday, and sets us up for a better normal, tomorrow”.