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BUTTERFLIES DON'T KNOW ANY COVID!

While I was teaching in MM Higher Secondary School, Thalassery in Kerala, India, a student, who was terribly down with some illness, attended my class after taking leave for a week.

"Sir, my disease is not a contagious one!", she responded when I showed my concern for coming to the class even before she was totally alright.

"Not because of that. You should have taken some more days' rest to cure completely. I would have given you special sessions to catch up with the portion!"

"It is quite boring to sit at home doing nothing, sir! It is impossible for me to pass even a single day more without my friends and teachers!"

Though I was aware that I had been enjoying every moment as a teacher engaged with the students always, this girl made me realise the real depth of the matter that troubled her. I recall that conversation which happened around 20 years back without missing a single word because it was an eye opener for me. It resonates in me when I think about millions of children who pass through the same kind of situation right now.

As of April start, around 800 million students have been forced out of schools and universities in a total of 100 countries, with 85 governments closing schools nationwide and 15 others imposing localized school closures, according to UNESCO. A large majority of those – 670 million – are between preschool age and 18 years old. Those numbers are only likely to rise in the near future.

To overcome this unprecedented challenge, many of the schools, universities and coaching centres all over the world have transitioned to a new way of operating. In the first place, by this remote learning program which is put in place, the most marginalized, poverty-stricken, and vulnerable children will be at the greatest disadvantage. In the second place, the students who undergo this new method of teaching are losing the emotional exposure they usually get from their study place. If they look worried and confused, it is quite normal, because what is going on is totally new for them. They are children and they are not bound to break their heads to find logic for maintaining calm. It is the elders' responsibility to heal their emotional imbalance by supplying alternative horizons to explore.

There is no comparison between classroom and online teaching. Necessity has driven the world to work with it. There are lot of matters the teachers are to look into so as to produce the best result out of this. Interaction is the one big thing which is missing in this mode of teaching. Since keeping the mic of the students unmuted is impractical, there should be some other alternatives to keep mutual communication on. Students have to solve the worksheets and send them to the teacher. Every student is supposed to get called with his or her name throughout the session. Even some selected students can be asked to teach a topic of choice for a short duration.

When they get extended holidays, the first reaction will be excitement for the opportunity to stay at home freely and to dive into the ocean opened up by gadgets. However, it will not last long. As the time passes, they will get exhausted and slowly, it might even lead them to depression. Parents' intervention is inevitable here. They ought to find areas of interest and skills of their children such as origami model making, painting, reading etc., and motivate them to immerse themselves in such activities.At this juncture, I recall the efforts of the mother of one of my students engaging him in making origami butterflies during these lockdown days and posting his video narrating the steps on YouTube that went viral, boosting his confidence manifold. Such steps from parents can do wonders.

No panic driven situation is a reason to give a pause to education of children. It is the children's right in any kind of conditions the world is exposed to. Today's children have to become experienced to prevent tomorrow's threats to the mankind. Let's be better prepared to face the future pandemics by giving proper education to them.

Let us listen to Master Jane from Southeast Europe:

"I'm happy that I'm at home, that I'm healthy... and that I have TV, wifi, phone and games I play every evening when I'm done with homework. I continue studying from home, my favourite subject is math! I'm happy that we have snow in the middle of spring and that I can play with Bella, my dog."

Jane, living in North Macedonia, is a passionate advocate for every child's right to participate in sport. He uses a wheelchair, having been diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). He plays football whenever he gets the chance and inspires millions. The opportunities are limitless....