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By Arnay Agarwal, Age 12 & IndyKids Staff

Teachers are great problem solvers, but the coronavirus pandemic has presented challenges unlike any other. From technical glitches to exposing the socioeconomic inequities of education to dealing with overstretched parents, teachers are now having to act as IT professionals and counselors. Over 1 billion children around the world have been affected by school closures, according to UNESCO, and teachers have been forced to quickly learn new teaching methods, and many are struggling.

Zara Kunders, an English teacher from Greenwood High International School in Bangalore, India, says that now her mind is at work most of the time. In an interview with IndyKids, Kunders said that remote learning has blurred the line between work and home. “I think it’s a little difficult [as] there isn’t a clear boundary anymore when we’re in constant communication with our students.”

On the other hand, Jared Winston, a French teacher at Poly Prep Country Day School in Brooklyn, New York, is back with his students, but school looks very different now. He teaches them from a classroom in the school building, while his students work from outdoor tents in the sports field. His students and their parents are grateful to have the semblance of normal life.

“Sure, students have to have masks all the time and sit six feet away from their peers in tents, but at least they are at school,” said Winston. “I think parents understand the quality of education is not what it otherwise would be.” However, even in-person learning is hindered by technological issues. “We are all using a lot of internet bandwidth to host our classes,” Winston explains. “This often leads to faulty internet connection and lag, reducing instructional quality and duration of learning.”

The Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit think tank, suggested in a September report that when teachers started doing online learning, they had no or very little prior experience doing so. “I do believe in the innovative power of online learning and think this process has forced teachers to adapt to emerging technologies,” said Winston. “These technologies will be very important in the future, especially if/when we have to return to a virtual model of education.”

Winston also says, however, that nothing beats in-person instruction and that the human element of education is important. This point is strengthened by Kunders, who mentioned that it is harder to understand how much the students are learning and that we can’t compare real-time presence in school to online teaching.

The shift to online learning has also caused many children to shift their use of electronic devices from leisure to study. Students are forced to ignore the distraction of online gaming and browsing during online classes, which, like many of us, they are tempted by, resulting in them facing a downfall in their learning rate.

Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) data from 2018 for the United States shows that before the pandemic, extensive time online spent by students was not related to their studies and was mainly used for leisure activities like internet surfing and gaming.

Both Winston and Kunders agree that some positive changes have come out of this situation. “This system has brought me a lot closer to my colleagues,” explains Winston. “We have all had to get a bit more creative with our instruction, so we are sharing ideas with each other more readily.” Kunders agrees that “teachers and children have realized that they are in the same boat and that they have become cooperative.” While the virus requires us all to be physically separated, in some ways it has also brought us all closer together.