COVID-19: Schools incorporate more non-academic activities to virtual schooling

Elections, competitions, trophies and camaraderie. As students settle into the routine of online classes, schools bring activities online for a semblance of normalcy

For the last three months, Sanjana Angeline, a Class XI student of Chennai’s Good Shepherd Matriculation Higher Secondary School, has been student co-ordinator of Good Shepherd Ideas Worth Spreading (GSIWS). A virtual offshoot of the school’s regular outreach programme, GSIWS was initiated to give students a space to interact with peers from Good Shepherd schools across the country and borders too. The hour-long programme, held every Saturday, pivots around a theme: topics discussed include mental health, cyber-bullying and menstruation taboos.

In Hyderabad, Zeenath Afroze, of Class XII at Army Public School (APS), Golconda, is excited about a win at an inter-school debate competition held virtually earlier this month. It was her first such event, “It was a great experience, I learnt a lot. It was nothing like winning in school, in front of your peers, but I had fun,” she says.

Online investiture ceremony for the student council of Global Public School, Kochi | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

As schools settle into the routine of online classes, they have now turned their attention to activities usual in a regular school year — elections, investiture, parent-teacher meetings and even inter-house competitions.

Return to extra-curriculars

Being part of such events creates a sense of camaraderie among students despite being physically distanced. Additionally, the inclusion of other activities helps so that children are not overwhelmed by loneliness that accompanies virtual learning.

GSIWS, says Sanjana, has helped her and her friends grow. The term she uses is “vertical literacy” — a combination of mental complexity, emotional intelligence, and transformed world view. Being involved has increased her confidence too, she adds.

Good Shepherd teacher Sashi Natarajan says such non-academic programmes have been conceived for “the mental and emotional well-being of the children. They shouldn’t suffer the repercussions of isolation”. She is also the co-ordinator of Good Shepherd outreach programmes. Sashi feels these peer interactions prove to be an emotional outlet.

Virtual Independence Day celebrations held by Army Public School, Golconda  

A crucial factor is giving students a sense of normalcy, despite challenges. Teachers see this as a lesson in adaptation. “We don’t want to put school life on hold. This way they also learn a valuable lesson in adapting, and that life can go on in the face of adversity,” says Susanna Sunil, vice principal, Global Public School, Kochi.

Choosing a school captain is a big part of any school year. Not only have schools conducted elections virtually, the investitures were also done the same way. These events are highly anticipated, a reason why school managements have decided to go ahead with them.

Sashi Kumaar Samraj, chairman of The Western Ghats International School at Ettimadai near Coimbatore says, “We didn’t want to dampen the spirit of our students. That’s why we went ahead and held the investiture ceremony virtually.” Every year, the formal ceremony brings a chief guest from the Indian Army or the Rapid Action Force. This year, the guest of honour administered the pledge to elected student leaders virtually.

Schools have started ‘dreaming bigger’. “We are looking at possibilities in adversities,” says Jayaprabha Pradeep, principal, Gregorian Public School, Kochi. “The closest we can get to the actual experience of school,” adds Sunitha S, principal of Bhavan’s Vidya Mandir, also in Kochi.

Neither Karisma Sherlith, Head Girl of Bhavan’s Vidya Mandir, nor Varghese Renji, Head Boy of Gregorian Public School, imagined their final year in school would be played out in their homes. Both are nevertheless happy with how things have turned out.

The two, both Class XII students, were recently virtually elected. The entire process — from campaigning to voting to investiture — was conducted online. While some schools used Google Meet for ‘candidates’ to meet their schoolmates as part of campaigning, others wrote their vision statements to be read out in classes. Voting was via Google Forms.

Schools without elections too selected leaders and held virtual investitures. The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) especially mandates that schools have YouTube channels, which live-stream events including investitures (part recordings-part live). Inter-house cultural events, quiz competitions and even talent hunts were conducted live on video apps.

“It is a lot of work. If in school we were literally running around, in the virtual context we worry whether the Internet connection will work and things will go according to plan,” says Farida Sultana, a teacher at APS, Golconda, which has conducted events such as quiz competitions and literary activities virtually. Teachers are careful about the use of technology, especially social media, and supervise all activities.

The transition from real to virtual has been largely seamless, teachers aver, with even parent-teacher meetings being held over Zoom calls. “This works wonderfully,” says Smitha Sreejith, a parent. “There is no endless wait to meet the teacher, it’s personal and, as parents, we find the interaction fruitful,” she adds.

Student speak

Meanwhile, Karisma and Varghese see the new way of schooling as an opportunity.

“If it was a regular year then we wouldn’t have been involved in too many activities since it is our Board exam year. But now we get to co-ordinate activities — be it for cultural events or online classes, we have been entrusted with more responsibilities and interacting with parents and teachers in different roles. This is training for the real world,” they say.

In the end though, everyone agrees that there is nothing like real school.

(With inputs from K Jeshi)

Source: Read Full Article