Teachers have been asked to plan activities which would attract students to school and help them get re-acclimatised to the classroom environment after a 1.5-year gap.

Masked students in a classroom Image for representation only. Credit: PTI
news Education Thursday, October 28, 2021 - 12:08

The Tamil Nadu Department of School Education has instructed teachers to forget about the syllabus and instead plan fun, activity based sessions for the school re-opening week on November 1. Teachers in government, government aided and matriculation schools across Tamil Nadu will host story telling sessions, indoor games, art and handwriting contests and song-and-dance-based activities to lure students back to school after a one-and-a-half-year gap. The week-long fun in classes will begin on November 1, when schools will welcome back students of classes 1-8  for the first time since the pandemic. 

“The activity-based events have been planned for seven days. The idea is to attract children and make them want to return to school. After a 1.5 year break, it is natural that many students do not want to return to physical classes. So making it fun and light might make them want to come back to school,” says Bala Dandayuthapani, Chief Educational Officer (CEO) of Thoothukudi district in Tamil Nadu. 

The second important objective is to re-orient students and get them acclimatised to the classroom environment, which they have not experienced in nearly two years. “We will only accommodate 20 students in a class. We have been given standard operating procedures (SOPs) to strictly follow — this includes COVID-19 safe protocols such as placing hand sanitisers, hand washes and soaps, separating desks, stocking up on masks and maintaining social distancing,” says Geetha, CEO of Coimbatore district. 

However, beyond maintaining the COVID-19 SOPs, Geetha says that teachers too will face several challenges with the schools reopening. “It can be as small as getting children used to sitting in one place. They have not done that or been in a formal classroom set up in 1.5 years. So following classroom etiquette such as sitting on chairs during classes, taking notes, putting trash in the dustbin, facing the teacher and the black board etc might be difficult as they are used to looking at their phones and screens,” she explains. Most importantly, getting students comfortable with human interaction outside of their families for the first time will also be a challenge, Geetha adds. 

45-day refresher course 

While broad guidelines have been sent to districts by the School Education Department, officials within the districts, along with the teachers, have come up with specific strategies for two major problems — to reduce learning outcome losses among students during the pandemic, and attract more students to classes to reduce dropout rates.

In Thoothukudi, there are 1,522 government aided, government and matriculation schools and the 10,000 odd teachers working in them, according to Bala Dandayuthapani “We devised a plan to reduce learning outcome losses. We asked teachers to create videos of lessons and send students live worksheets to do after watching the video. This we believe will create a competitive spirit and encourage students to watch the videos and learn the lessons,” Bala Dandayuthapani, CEO of Thoothukudi district, told TNM. 

For the first 45 days after reopening, teachers will also focus on a refresher course, to get the students up to speed with their lessons. “We will not be jumping into current lessons but do a refresher on the older syllabus from the previous grade to make sure that the children are not lost,” says Sivakumar, Chief Educational Officer of Thanjavur district, which has 624 government schools, 736 government aided schools and 269 private schools. 

Illam Thedi Kalvi 

To reduce learning gaps during COVID-19, the DMK government on Tuesday, October 26, announced the Illam Thedi Kalvi scheme. The idea of the programme is to address the psychological and educational needs of the students, which could have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Chief Minister Stalin inaugurated the new scheme on Wednesday. 

“In this scheme, volunteers including college students, women degree holders, retired teachers etc can enroll to impart lessons after school hours to students from classes 1 to 8. The scheme will also have interactive learning formats and classes will be conducted on a village unit level for six hours over four days. For the first week starting November 1, volunteers too have been asked to keep the syllabus a little light and exciting until students get acclimated to the surroundings,” says Sivakumar.

Imparting COVID-19 safe practices 

Added to the challenges of having children in school for the first time in a long time is making sure that COVID-19 protocol is followed, including ensuring that masks are worn at all times, hands are frequently washed/sanitised, and social distancing is maintained, says Sivakumar. “We have taken a multi-pronged approach to ensure that children follow these safe practices. We have conducted several parent-teacher meetings to tell parents to start training their children in COVID-19 safe practices, teachers and volunteers also go door-to-door to inform parents that hand washing, sanitising, masking up and social distancing have to be imparted to their wards. We also keep the classrooms and grounds clean and have decided to put placards in bathrooms and classroom doors, walls and notice boards reminding students of COVID-19-appropriate behaviour,” says Sivakumar. 

Further, teachers have also been told that they can stream videos on YouTube and other content platforms for their students to help impart COVID-19-appropriate behaviour to the children. 

State addressing drop-outs, gaps in learning

A recent report in an English daily in Tamil Nadu stated that nearly 1.25 lakh students had dropped out of schools in Tamil Nadu since the decision to reopen schools was announced on September 1. 

A majority of these students reportedly did not respond to communication from the schools. A list of such students was prepared by the district authorities from each district, and with the help of teachers from government schools, most of these students were traced and re-directed into the nearest government school, according to district officials. 

“Generally we have a common pool or database of students who take their TC (transfer certificate) or other documents to officially leave the school. Those who stopped coming to classes or left without informing were traced back to their houses by teachers. Some of them are children of daily-wage workers and these workers migrate to other states based on industrial and business opportunity in that state. The others quit school to contribute to the family income etc,” says Bala Dandayuthapani. 

Across Tamil Nadu, over 55,000 teachers engage in door-to-door surveys every year to interact with students who had not enrolled for classes, and convince them to rejoin. “There is a scheme called ‘Out of School Children’ undertaken by the Tamil Nadu government. Every year, teachers visit students who dropped out as flagged by our digital database, and convince them to rejoin classes,” Sivakumar added. This year too, the survey was done. In Thanjavur, teachers visited nearly 6,000 houses of students’ who had dropped out and got them enrolled in the nearest government school.