‘Few Smartphones, So We Used Voice Data For e-Class’

Anuj Agarwal, the principal of a government inter college in Uttar Pradesh, says not all his students had smartphones at home. So, he devised new ways to conduct e-classes

I have been in the teaching profession for nearly 12 years now and I wish to take education to the outermost fringes of society. I teach Social Sciences and English, and I want to impart knowledge to anyone who is curious and dedicated. However, when the Coronavirus struck and schools, colleges were shut down, it acted as a sudden dampener to my purpose.

Our government college, at Manpur in Moradabad, was established recently as the first inter college in the area. We were in the middle of fine-tuning paraphernalia when the virus outbreak happened. Since it was such an unprecedented crisis, it took us some time to figure things out.

Most of our students come from underprivileged background who either do not have smartphones or cannot buy expensive data plans. Nor could we allow them to huddle around a single smartphone for classes because of social distancing norms. We therefore realised we needed to innovate to be able to continue teaching them via distance learning methods.

ALSO READ: ‘Teaching My Daughter In Lockdown’

You will be surprised with what solutions small-town India can come up with to overcome hurdles. Video calls hog data. So we decided to break down school curriculum chapters into smaller topics, and then converted them into voice data.

Next, we disseminated the same chapters via various mediums. To explain some subjects, we made videos on the topic and put them up on public platform like YouTube. We ensured these videos were of short-duration. Those who had access to a basic smartphone and a basic data plan, could opt for the video format.

For those who could not access videos on their phone, we made small audio clips of a few minutes each. These audio clips were sent through both WhatsApp and as normal voice recordings. We also used standard SMS services to send written material. This didn’t require any internet connection or downloading.

Plus, we told our students that we were available on call to clarify any doubt they might have on a particular topic. It’s ok if a student can’t see us, at least they can hear us and learn. So basically we prepared the same knowledge into different formats.

Agarwal believes teachers also learn from students.

What prepared me for this was the fact that I had been a part of both Skill India and Digital India programmes of the government. Thus, I understood the technical aspects of e-learning.

ALSO READ: ‘Online Classes, Pubg And Web Series…’

Our students have classes from 8 am to 2 pm. We have around 60 students in our college and seven-eight teachers, and we keep brainstorming about how we can make learning more accessible. Since I serve as both the Principal as well as the Social Sciences teacher, I ensure that the children can come up to me regarding any query they have about the subject. I have kept some time aside to answer their queries related to Coronavirus or any other important social issues. Many a time students surprise me with their ideas. Some of them who have access to smart phones at times send us some interesting links and we learn from them.

Thankfully the electricity situation in UP has improved so the students face no problem in keeping their phones charged for classes.

A lot of people are currently praising the Kerala government’s idea of taking education to children who don’t have access to internet through television, but very few know that the HRD ministry had already taken this initiative like SWAYAM Prabha.

For many years (2008-2014), I was involved in teaching children of manual scavengers. Teaching is a deeply fulfilling task and Coronavirus has taught us the importance of being well-informed and adaptive in the face of uncertainty.

Locked Down At Seventeen

Lt Gen (Retd) Ike Singha reminisces his first quarantine at National Defence Academy in 1974 due to chicken pox and the bonding between the grounded batchmates

We were first time quarantined in May-June 1974, at National Defence Academy, Khadakwasla, in Kilo Squadron, the reigning champion Squadron, towards the very end of our first term. One flank of the ground floor consisting of freshers was segregated for three weeks because one of us had been detected with chicken pox. Life at the academy starts early at 5 AM and is so hectic that by lights-out time at 10.30 PM, we used to fall flat on the bed; off to sleep within a minute, and were dead to the world till 5 AM.

Our quarantine meant that we were confined to our rooms, called cabins in NDA, based on the Naval tradition; and did not have to attend drill, physical training, riding, swimming, academic classes and sports activities. We were served meals in our flank itself. Unlike the present lockdown, we did not have to sweep our rooms and wash our clothes. All facilities were extended to us after taking due precautions. In fact, it was one great holiday during which twelve of us bonded exceedingly well. Till now, when we are all grandfathers, we are closer to each other than the other batchmates.

ALSO READ: ‘How I Turned The Tables On Lockdown’

As first termers, it was a blessing in disguise, as we could rest and recoup while no seniors could punish or rag us. We got a sadistic pleasure in staying up in the bed while listening to announcements for morning muster followed by the NDA prayer before the entire squadron, but for the dirty dozen, marched off on their bicycles for a long, gruelling and treacherous day ahead.

We generally missed our bed tea and only surfaced in our pyjamas for breakfast. It seemed that the term break which was a month away, had already started for us! We played dumb charades and also did jamming as there were one or two good singers amongst us. Three of us had cleared the first tier of drill square test taken by the Subedar Major of the Academy. The second stage was more stringent as the Adjutant in his test dropped half the candidates who had cleared stage one. We were thrilled to see our name in the pass list in spite of missing the Adjutant’s test!

ALSO READ: ‘Lockdown Made My Kids Prospective Chefs’

There was the flip side to the lockdown as well. The seniors would quietly sneak into our corridor and give us their set of eleven brass buttons each, which needed to be polished for the white patrol to be worn on Passing Out Parade. Each one of us landed up with four to five sets of these brass buttons. Some seniors also borrowed our rain capes and cycles and we were not sure in what shape they would be returned. Some academically weak seniors gave us notes to be copied from their brighter course mates. Seniors ensured all these encounters were done in a clandestine manner as special operations!

There were occasional fist fights when some early birds had taken more than their share of food especially the tipsy pudding. We missed some of our academic and physical tests which were mandatory to clear before going home on term break. Those who had not cleared their tests or had failed them once the lockdown was lifted, had to come one week earlier from home for practice, preparation and retests. Memories of those lovely three weeks, nearly half a century ago came back vividly during the ongoing lockdown when one had to help in the daily chores!

‘Corona Unsettled Us, Cyclone Added To The Misery’

Rashmi Singh, a 37-year-old banker in Kolkata, says going to work, household chores and distancing had begun to tell on her family when Cyclone Amphan added to their woes

I got transferred to Kolkata in July and from then on it has been a series of one readjustment after another. Just as my family of four (with two kids aged 5 and 8) was settling down to Kolkata’s slow and languid pace after Bengaluru’s fast- paced life that Coronavirus struck.

Being a banker, my work comes under essential services and there was no way work from home was an option for me. So every day during the lockdown I had to go to work. With no access to maids during the lockdown, it meant I had to do all the household chores and cooking before leaving for work.

Thankfully my husband has proved to be of tremendous support and also had the option to work from home, so he would (and always does) help in the household chores as much as he could and take care of the kids while I was at work. Commuting to office during lockdown was very difficult as one had very little access to cabs. Driving to work also wasn’t an option. One didn’t know what one was exposed to while at work.

And just when we thought we had got the lockdown figured out that Cyclone Amphan, one of the deadliest cyclones that India has ever seen, struck.

Thankfully due to technology we were informed beforehand of the havoc Amphan could wreak. The timing of the landfall had been predicted around 2.30 pm on Wednesday, May 20. And we were at work till 12 pm that day. Then we hurried back home as soon as we could. Thankfully the roads were empty because of both lockdown and Amphan. But around an hour after I reached home that mayhem started.

My kids, and to be honest, even I was terrified of the whooshing sound the storm was making. Our balcony had sliding windows, just like everyone else in our society. They made such rattling sounds as if they would fall off. One resident’s AC unit actually fell off on a car. We could see scooties falling down and cars colliding with one another as their owners hadn’t applied handbrakes after parking.

ALSO READ: ‘Covid-19 Was Bad Enough, Then Came Cyclone’

I live in a society in Tangra (which is near China Town) and thankfully our society RWA (Residents’ Welfare Association) did a terrific job of handling both the lockdown as well as Amphan or the damages could have been much more.

We had one corona positive case in our society and the society president and his team did a wonderful job of streamlining everything. First of all it was ensured that there would be no discrimination against the person who tested positive and his family. Then a dedicated guard sat outside their house and would provide the family with everything they needed. Those of us who work in the essential services were also taken care of. Excel sheets were drawn up for the delivery of groceries to the whole society (around 1200 houses which means nearly 5,000 people). Each tower had 3-4 volunteers. Things were tough during lockdown but they could have been tougher if not for the RWA taking care of small things.

They did the same thing when Amphan struck. They drew a list of things that could be done to minimize damage. Everyone was asked to clear their balcony of potted plants or sharp objects. The water pump was switched on so that the basement parking wouldn’t be flooded (many nearby societies found their basements flooded because they hadn’t planned beforehand). Many more such steps were taken. Senior citizens and families with people with special needs were checked upon.

Work from home was impossible the next day as both the internet services as well as electricity supply had been affected. But while many areas of Kolkata are still suffering our LAN wire cables were repaired and the RWA had managed to supply electricity through generators. Sometimes I wonder if an RWA can be so efficient, why can’t our governments be as proactive and prepared? And not only should they be prepared, they should also let people know that they are well-prepared so that people don’t panic.

WATCH: ‘No Money, No Food, No Work’

Kolkata taught me that we can do wonders if we come together as human beings. I couldn’t have adjusted to so many quick and sudden changes without the help of our RWA. Amphan and coronavirus taught me that we should always be in tune with nature or nature will keep taking corrective measures like these. Time we understood we are a part of nature.

Watch – ‘No Money, No Food, No Work’

LokMarg speaks to a stream of migrant workers on their way home in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The dejected workers lament heartless employers and apathetic administrations. Yet, their resolve to reach their families remains firm as they brave the scorching sun, long distance to reach home.

‘How I Turned The (Dining) Tables On Lockdown’

Lalita Patil, a 35-year-old food entrepreneur in Thane, Maharashtra, recounts how she decided to take a step back to tide over the setback caused by Covid-19 crisis

In 2016, I used my minor savings as seed capital to start a localised tiffin service in Thane. I always wanted to be financially independent. For that reason, after my marriage, I gave private tuitions for some extra income. I even took up a private job but quit after a few years when I felt I had to start something on my own.

The tiffin service was working moderately well but I realised that working from home had its limitations and to grow, I would need to step out. If a woman operates her business from home, she is still considered a housewife and not an entrepreneur. A bigger business model had germinated in my mind but I had little capital to translate it into reality.

ALSO READ: ‘My Kids Turned Prospective Chefs In Lockdown’

And that is when I saw an ad in local newspapers about a start-up idea contest. I took part in it and my idea won the prize money – Rs 10 lakh. With the required capital to boot, I launched Gharachi Aathvan (literally,Remembering Home), a restaurant that offers home-style food in July 2019. This was a fairly big leap from the tiffin service that I had started.

Things began to look up within six months, but then Coronavirus hit Maharashtra. Our state is among the worst affected. I had to down the shutters on Gharachi Aathvan after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nationwide lockdown on March 24 to curb the spread of Covid-19.

After staying home for a few weeks, I decided that to tide over this health, humanitarian and economic crisis, I need to take one step back. Thus, I shifted my focus, and began catering to people who were still working in essential sectors such as medical staff and chemists along with students and young professionals who lived in hostels and PG accommodations. These people were facing problems as they were either unable to cook or to source meals with restaurants closed.

ALSO READ: Misery And Hope In Covid-19 Times

However, this time the tiffin service was a tad different in a way that with every first order I provided my clients a set of utensils. For, I knew it was difficult for them to get plates and spoons this time. I packed a bowl, plates, spoons etc with the first order and informed them that they can return the set once the lockdown gets over.

It started with a few lunch parcels to medical staff I knew. But the word spread, and today close to 50-100 people are eating from my kitchen every day. My revenues have become stable again. This is how I turned the tables on the lockdown.  

ALSO READ: ‘Teaching My Daughter In Lockdown’

Gharachi Aathvan is not just a restaurant; it is my dream. I will not let my dream be shattered by any crisis. I want to be known as a business leader one day, and not a housewife. Like Bisleri is synonymous with mineral water, I want to become synonymous with home-cooked meals.

‘As If Virus Wasn’t Bad Enough, Down Came A Cyclone’

Sweata Jaiswal Singh, 37, says she hasn’t seen a bigger disaster than Amphan in her entire life in Kolkata. Singh says her three-year-old son is still not over the trauma

I have been born and brought up in Kolkata but never in the 37 years of my life have I witnessed the state of destruction as brought on by cyclone Amphan. I live in one of the busiest areas of Kolkata, i. e. Howrah and we suffered big time. There was water logging everywhere and our electricity supply got disrupted. The motor in our society malfunctioned and we had to use water drawn by boring pumps. But that was also difficult because of the erratic power supply. We had somewhat normal electricity and water supply only on the third day, i. e around May 22.

The past two months have proved to be quite difficult for us. I have a 7 year old daughter and a 3 year old son and both have been cooped up in our home for two months now due to coronavirus. Both my husband and I are in the banking sector and both don’t have the luxury of working from home and thus we have finally agreed upon a schedule where we go to our respective offices on alternate days.

ALSO READ: PM Announces Cyclone Relief For Bengal

Most kids have both their parents at homes and my kids see both of us going to work. They have their online classes going on as well. We find it very difficult to adjust to so many changes all at one go, first we adjusted to the lockdown, then having to go to office during lockdown, then working from home on alternate days during lockdown, then having no access to household help and managing both home and work, as well as helping the kids adjust to these changes.

Would you believe it: my parents live in the nearby society, but it has been two months since I have seen them? My kids are so used to seeing their Nana-Nani regularly that they now wonder when they will be able to see their grandparents again.

My son is still scared from what he saw on Wednesday and asks me many times:  “Mumma, will the storm come again and again?” He was scared of both the sights and sounds during Amphan’s landfall. I don’t have an answer to his questions but bigger and bigger cyclones have been hitting India for the past few years.

ALSO READ: 72 Killed As Cyclone Batters Orissa, Bengal

I got ready to go to office the next day after the cyclone, but since the roads were all blocked because of water logging and because trees had fallen, I had to come back to my home. Internet services are a lifeline in these times and they have been affected as well.

Thankfully our society had managed grocery and all beforehand so there is no shortage of food items. But 2020 has turned out to be such an uncertain year that one wonders what is going on. It feels as if no matter how prepared we are nature is proving to be smarter than us. Hope we learn from all this and also learn to respect nature.

‘Teaching My Kid In Lockdown, I Rediscovered Many Subjects’

Col Vishal Ahlawat of Delhi Cantt says lockdown provided him ample time to be with family. Besides, he brushed up various subjects while teaching his eight-year-old daughter

The lockdown due to Coronavirus may be difficult in certain aspects, but in some it’s a blessing in disguise. Post-lockdown I have been able to spend a lot of time with my daughter Parnika (8), who is in Class 4. Before lockdown she used to attend tuition classes as well, but now they have been called off. We both enjoy our time together a lot, even if most of the times it is about her studies. I love seeing how confident, curious and yet open-minded my daughter is to learn new things and through newer mediums.

She has her online school classes four days a week. Most of the days her classes get over around 12.30 pm and after a break, she and I sit together to help her revise. It is actually more a revision for me and I am re-brushing my skills in various subjects.

ALSO READ: ‘My Children Turned Into Prospective Chefs’

I am mesmerised by how wonderful English grammar is. The generation that we belong to, our education system didn’t really encourage understanding a subject but rote learning. So back then we might have memorised a lot of grammar, but now I am truly beginning to see its beauty. I love it how my daughter doesn’t mind asking the smallest of questions until she understands a topic in its totality. She is teaching me rather to be able to ask questions without hesitating.

Col Ahlawat says his daughter Parnika is open to learning through new mediums.

I am also loving teaching her Maths and Life Sciences as well. When we were in school, our Maths teacher was quite old and would take a lot of time to reach the classroom from the staff room. She had given instructions to us to keep reciting the multiplication tables for as long as she took to reach the classroom.

Such memories keep coming back when my daughter talks about her school. On one hand she says she misses interacting physically with her friends, but on the other hand she loves sleeping till late now that she doesn’t have to go to school.

ALSO READ: ‘Lockdown Hasn’t Affected A Millennial’s Life’

However, it is while teaching her Life Sciences subject that I have gone a step ahead of rebrushing my skills and have learnt many new things. Sometimes I do a double take at how deeply they are being taught about topics like: How does the Universe work? And then I am like should children so young be taught such deep things at such a young age? But it is upon the schools to decide on this. I as a grown up am enjoying reading my daughter’s Life Sciences book for right now.

During the first few days of my daughter’s online classes, even the teachers took some time to get adjusted to technology for everyday use at such a large scale. As a parent I also got to upgrade my technological skills. There are pros and cons of both classroom as well as online learning, but for right now I am enjoying the wonderful time I am getting to spend with my daughter. We laugh a lot together and learning seems to be such a fun experience. It’s like I have gone back to school again, I feel such a sense of freshness.

‘Hot Spot Zone Residents Must Follow Rules Strictly’

Paras Gupta, 27, an IT professional who got stuck in a hot spot zone during a visit to his hometown in Moradabad, says people in a containment area must adhere to the rules set by administration

I live and work in Noida, Delhi-NCR. In mid-March I had come to my hometown Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh for some family work. I have been here since the lockdown was first announced. In a way, I am happy that I get to be with my family at such a crucial time. My house is in Kothiwal Nagar area which has been declared as a hot spot zone.

I must congratulate the local administration due to which we are facing no problem as far as the essential supplies are concerned. There’s no shortage of fruits, vegetables or milk etc. The timing of grocery stores are strictly regulated and the authorities make sure everyone gets the essential items they need.

ALSO READ: ‘Life Is Tough In Hot Spot Zone’

 My family and I are facing no problems at all even though we are living in a high-risk zone. The containment measures are strictly followed, which is good for everybody’s safety. If by not going out, we can save our own lives as well as that of others, we surely can do that much for our society.

Only if more people (in fact everyone) had behaved responsibly, we wouldn’t have reached such a crisis situation, where for the fault of a few an entire locality has to live locked inside their houses. Many people at the early stages of the Coronavirus pandemic were unaware about the precautions to take, but now everyone knows about the dos and the don’ts. Still there are so many people who don’t follow measures like social distancing.

ALSO READ: ‘Lockdown Has Turned My Kids Into Chefs’

I am an IT Professional and thus working from home isn’t a problem right now. However, I wish I had a little more time so I could help my mother a bit more with the household chores. In all this, I also take out time to keep myself updated with the news and connect with my friends over phone. The other day I was missing my friends badly and really wanted to meet him, but my father sat me down and talked to me about how little discipline goes a long way.

I think if we can listen to our parents, we can listen to the authorities as well. I feel the centre is doing effective communication and soon we should be able to flatten the curve if enough people listen.

‘Every Individual Can Help In Battling Covid-19’

Pavan Jain of Yuva Unstoppable, an Ahmedabad-based NGO, has been on his toes distributing relief kits to the vulnerable during the lockdown. Jain says each citizen has a role in defeating the pandemic.  

Since the lockdown began, Amitabh Shah (the founder of our NGO) and I knew we had to stand up and do something to reach out to people in need. This is the time that we should work together with the government and state administration and help them in every way we can. Solidarity is our only hope in this fight against Covid-19 and keeping this in mind this, I started out initially on my own by distributing food packets and ration kits among the daily wagers and other less privileged people. 

Taking forward its vision of spreading kindness, Yuva Unstoppable launched many initiatives. One of such initiatives was to reach out to families of construction workers, police personnel and other vulnerable groups. We are thankful to organisations like Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) India who supported us wholeheartedly for the initiative.      

It was not easy. Procuring, delivering, distributing, monitoring and documenting the entire exercise of provision of more than 2,000 food and preventive kits and 2,000 hygiene kits to construction labourers and police personnel across different states of India – Gujarat, Haryana, Maharashtra – was a challenging task. The lockdown had made it worse, with sealed borders and disrupted supply chains.  But we took up the challenge as that was our only option.

ALSO READ: ‘They Built Our Homes, We Can’t Let Them Starve’

We could manage to find volunteers in all the states to carry out the relief work. Not only did we achieve what we had set out to do, but we did it with utmost precaution – social distancing, wearing masks and gloves, and obeying rules of law. We were lucky to get the support of law enforcement agencies and local authorities.

Pavan Jain distributing hygiene kits to Police personnel at Sabarmati Jail Ahmedabad

People who didn’t even know us, joined us and volunteered happily. People who were in need were also helping each other out, even though they did not have enough resources. Our volunteers and on-field staff came across many humbling and challenging realities while accomplishing this mission and it only made them more sensitive.

One of these days, as my friend and I walked in the scorching heat to deliver food kits among the needful in the city, we were moved by a differently-abled incense sticks (agarbatti) seller we met on the way. Even in these difficult times, he hoped to survive honestly by selling his incense sticks. When we approached him, he did not ask for any help, all he wanted was some water. 

He told us about himself. He lived in.a family of four and his father suffers from a neuron disorder, which makes his paltry income crucial for the family. The lockdown put a hiatus to his only source of livelihood. When we spoke to him, he had not received any aid from the government.

ALSO READ: ‘Children Carried Sacks On Head, I Couldn’t Sleep’

Then there was this eight-month pregnant woman, who we found on the streets. Clueless about the father of her unborn child, she had almost lost her sanity. Our volunteers immediately got her admitted to Ahmedabad Civil Hospital and also completed formalities of child registration in an orphanage keeping in mind the future.

Many homeless, malnourished, vulnerable men, women, children, are sleeping on an empty stomach every day, without a roof on their heads or shelter, increasing their risk of getting infected due to low resistance and immunity resulting from lack of adequate nutrition. A little act of kindness, in any form, goes a long way in making their lives a bit better.

We all have a role to play and contribute towards mitigating Covid-19. It is time we support people who are working on the frontline — our doctors, health workers, police personnel, emergency workers, delivery men, and bankers. Our community needs us too. Remember, if you have the passion to do something, you will definitely find ways to do it.

To donate for Covid-19 relief work, you can reach out to Charities Aid Foundation here: https://give4good.org.in/covid-19-donate

‘Online Classes, PUBG, Web Series… Lockdown Is Cool’

Vaibhav, a Class 9 student in Delhi-NCR, says teenagers have adapted to digital mediums better than grown-ups. Other than not being able to indulge in outdoor sports, his life hasn’t changed much during lockdown.

I am a student of Class 9 and we are deep in the middle of changes brought about by Coronavirus. Schools have been closed for really long now and we are getting used to online classes.  Earlier, mobile phones were an important part of our lives, but now they have overtaken every aspect of our lives. Due to lockdown, we aren’t able to go out anywhere. So the phone is the real go-to place now:  to attend lectures, to play PUBG games with friends and catching up with new web series on online apps.

As teenagers, our understanding and comfort levels with digital mediums is better than adults. That is why we have adapted to the lockdown better than most other grown-ups. Digital mediums make you feel part of a wider world.

ALSO READ: ‘Lockdown Made My Kids Prospective Chefs’

I was a huge PUBG fan before lockdown too, but my friends and I would also play basketball, go cycling and swimming. Ours is a huge society and I have nearly 50 friends here with whom I could interact on a regular basis. The physical interaction now has stopped; now it happens through Zoom calls. From morning to 2 pm, I attend online classes. Then I play PUBG for some time and again between 7-8 pm.

I do miss physical interaction with my friends at our housing society and school. Nothing can replace the fun that friends can have together. Thus, our school has ensured that everyday the first period online will be an interactive session and we will start studying our various subjects only after the second period.

ALSO READ: ‘Lockdown Hasn’t Changed Much, But I Miss Eating Out’

I don’t what’s going to happen in the future but for right now I am happy that our teachers have made the transition from traditional classroom to online classroom quite easily. We are having some difficulties with uploading heavy files but overall things are going smoothly.

If the lockdown is further extended beyond May 31, it would affect us, but not as much as others. It has been too long that we have been in lockdown now. At the same time we understand the seriousness of the matter and are ready to follow all government guidelines to keep ourselves and our countrymen safe.