During these unprecedented times presented by the global pandemic the third UAP, “To Accompany the Youth in the Creation of a Hope Filled Future”,  has become even more important than before. Many schools are doing amazing work to accompany their students through this strange times. With the aim to echo and share some of the wonderful ways in which the schools in the different Jesuit Provinces have been accompanying students over the last few months we invited Norbert Menezes, SJ, Education Delegate for Patna Province, India in JCAP to share some of this work by replying to the following interview.

 

1.  What is your general opinion on UAP #3 now that our education system has been forced to adapt to a “new normal”?

Patna Province has four schools affiliated to the Central Board, eight schools recognized by the State Board, and four primary schools. Most of them are located in small towns or in rural areas. Hence there are diverse responses of accompaniment of students.

  • The lockdown of schools due to Covid-19 created a climate of uncertainty. We had to first create positive vibes by helping our staff to see the positive in the chaos, see God in all things. Accompanying the young during the pandemic truly became challenging since they were not physically present to us. The lockdown of schools took us by surprise with no blueprint how to move forward. The only way to engage with them was the online medium.
  • Most of us could only conceive face-to-face teaching and accompaniment of students before the pandemic. The extension of the lockdown period forced us to evolve concrete measures to connect with our students who were confined within the four walls of their homes. This led us to use the phones and WhatsApp to establish contacts with our students. Our first priority was to remain connected with students. So we created online groups and posted study materials and motivational quotes.
  • For many educators/teachers, all of a sudden to become techno savvy was not an easy job. Though many were using their android sets for social news and entertainment, they were surprised to see that their small electronic gadgets could facilitate online teaching and schooling. Teachers experienced their inner inadequacies and lack of technical know-how. The schools conducted series of short training programs on how to conduct effective online teaching, attendance, tests and evaluation, etc. All this looked like an uphill task especially connecting with students having no connectivity and without textbooks.
  • As teachers gained self-confidence in online teaching, they discovered that they could conduct online schooling, ensuring that most of the curricular and co-curricular activities take place online in spite of the lockdown due to the pandemic.
  • Following the protocols, we invited parents to interact and discuss with the teachers the level of their wards’ online learning and personality development.
  • The virtual encounters of teachers and friends in schools were taking during the online classes and interaction sessions in the Zoom and Google Meet platforms. These acted as buffer for the mental stress and turmoil amidst the loneliness students experienced during the pandemic. Most of the school teachers were conducting classes either through video apps, online or other various e-learning sources. These were external signs of paradigm shift in teaching learning styles.
  • The pandemic has made every house a school and every guardian a teacher especially for students of the primary classes. Teachers’ homes have become libraries, labs, playgrounds, assembly grounds and a place for live telecast studios.
  • The pandemic which forced all to shift to a virtual model of schooling highlighted the digital divide between the urban and rural, good connectivity and no/poor connectivity, etc. In many of our rural schools, parents were devoid of online facilities due unaffordability of handsets for their wards and poor connectivity. This led to poor/no learning from online teaching. To these students, our schools were reaching out through village/cluster coaching and making available hard copies of lesson notes.
  • Rural unaided schools are facing financial difficulties, and they are being supported by other schools of the province. Schools shared their resource materials so that teachers were empowered and no students were left behind.
  • Teachers were striving for better presentation of learning content, and through improved communication skills were connecting with students in better ways. These efforts communicated that our schools cared for students and it laid the foundation of positive interaction between the school and homes.

Briefly, COVID-19 has given us time to slow down, time to   introspect and to reflect on our actions as human beings and of respecting nature. It has made us aware of our collective fallacy of not caring enough and not doing enough. We need to change our lifestyles and appreciate the new normal.

2. Could you share some examples of how schools in your Province have been accompanying and caring for students? What steps have you and your Schools taken? 

Except for the rural primary schools, all our schools have initiated the following measures.

  • Initially teachers/schools created class-wise WhatsApp groups. This was to establish contact with students and their guardians. Teachers posted study materials and video lessons explaining the concepts for students. This facilitated understanding of concepts.
  • For the last six months, our schools have been conducting online teaching using the Google Meet and Zoom platforms. These platforms have enabled us to have face to face interaction with students, giving us opportunity to guide them apart from imparting education.
  • To promote holistic development, schools have introduced series of activities and competitions to showcase students’ talents. Some teachers have displayed affirmative actions by giving hesitant students opportunities for participation. By doing so,they have boosted up students’ morale and confidence.
  • Recently many of our schools conducted the Rangoli Competition (an art form in which patterns are created on the floor or the ground using materials such as coloured rice, quartz power or flower petals). This competition not only showcased students’ creativity but also provided opportunity to appreciate others’ art and Indian culture before the festival of lights (Diwali).
  • Most of our schools conducted online awareness classes for students and parents on the pandemic and the necessary precautions we all need to take. In a few schools, teachers conduct motivational session for half an hour once a week. Others have brief motivational inputs integrated in their lessons.
  • Our schools have conducted various online competitions for our students such as English/Hindi Speech Competition, Singing Competition, Fancy Dress Competition, Card making, etc. so that students are engaged constructively.
  • Schools are encouraging various self-study practices and are supporting peer consultation. Some schools also asked the senior students to prepare projects on various themes and submit them to the school.
  • Students are encouraged to contact the school counsellor or any teacher in case they feel the need to confide their struggles, stress or any other challenges.
  • Some teachers conduct brief yoga sessions or breathing exercises for centring their thoughts and emotions for better classroom attention.
  • Students are given academic assignments, reflective essays, etc. The notebooks containing assignments are dropped by parents in schools, corrected by teachers and returned to parents. This create space for various forms of mentoring.

 

3. What would you say the main challenges of this UAP have been and still are, for the schools in your region? 
  • One of the main challenges we face is to accompany the youth in the creation of hope-filled future. The future of our youth is dark and gloomy amidst the uncertainty posed by the pandemic. The face to face online interaction is difficult for students in remote villages with no facility of technology.
  • Formerly we discouraged /banned mobiles in schools. Now it has become a necessity and we demand them from parents for online schooling. However, teens misuse them or get addicted to mobiles. Some teens outsmart their parents and thus their studies are neglected. They are not able to focus on their life goals.
  • Initially many rural parents and some from towns did not consider online teaching during pandemic as schooling. They refused to pay the tuition fees thus making it difficult for schools to pay the salaries to teachers. Change in some parents’ mindset is difficult.
  • Motivating the unmotivated is a great challenge. This implies tracking students who are not regular to class in order to check on them, support them and accompany them. Students’ development is accelerated when they take responsibility for their lives.
  • Parent engagement provides opportunity to forge stronger, more trusting relationships between parents and teachers.
4.  What would your advice be to other schools/provinces to consider, while using this UAP as a lens for their work? I.e., how can we better accompany our students or why do you feel this is so important?
  • Accompanying the youth is important for they are the future of our country. Ironically they are going astray for various reasons. To bring them to the right track is our responsibility. We can do this only if we accompany them.
  • We need to make our youth comfortable and accompany them then only they will confide with us. We need to give and spend more time with them.
  • We must inculcate values through the lessons/topics that we teach. This will go a long way in helping students become contributing members of the society.
  • Prolonged lockdown periods make students feel hopeless about the future. Many teens are experiencing spasm of depression, uncertainty, family strife, social isolation, etc.  Hence through lessons we need to encourage resilience.
  • Giving hope is a positive motivational state that help students to explore various pathways, to become successful, and to make things happen. Hope enhances both grit and perseverance and enable us to achieve our goals.
  • Some attempts have been made by us to help students to identify problems they most want to solve. Teachers guide the teen to research multiple perspectives and come to their own conclusions. Further, students are encouraged to share their findings with their classmates. Some teachers horn students’ skills in public speaking and persuasive writing.
  • Amidst the prevailing atmosphere of negativity, teachers encourage students to identify some mundane positive observation or event and make them write or speak about it in their online classes. This makes the students hopeful and offset the smog of negativity by drawing attention to the positive out there.
  • Thrust of online classes is initiated through the lens of improvement. Every civilization has its darker eras. So also human life. We enable students to see the bigger picture, and help them recognize that our darkest pits are teachable moments, and it is an invitation for personal and societal improvement.
  • We promote student activism through social media on issues that poisons society such as, neglect of environment, lack of intercultural awareness, intolerance, fundamentalism, etc. Whatever be their interests or strengths, students can be active in their communities in creating awareness. Doing good for others can help defeat hopelessness.
  • Embed mindfulness training so that students can put things in proper perspective. This can regulate their worry and empower them. Help them to understand what they are feeling, and help them to build strategies to calm the storm in their hearts and heads.
  • Hope is about the belief that you can make an impact. It makes them responsible for their lives, own learning. It enables students to look ahead, to identify for themselves what needs to be improved, and giving them the skills and confidence to go out and do it.

Youth are our future. It is our responsibility to show them the right path. They need our constant support and guidance. They need to be motivated by conducting various programs such as seminars, workshops etc. They need to be constantly made aware of social realities, social justice, and love for the marginalized. Through teachers as role models for youth, we can accompany youth to respect all religions, have special concern for the poor and weaker sections of the society. Having a vision for change we want to see matters, for it can help and guide students through discussion, debate, etc. to action, that is personal transformation.