With over 21 years of experience in and around the education sphere, Sheba Thapar speaks at length about what lays ahead for schools
Currently holding the position of Headmistress at Gurgaon’s prestigious St. Xavier’s High School, Sheba Thapar has been a dedicated professional. She has been actively involved in creating and monitoring education policies and practices that promote a safe learning environment. Sheba Thapar’s expertise ensure a school culture that encourages continuous improvements for teachers and students.
In this interview, she talks at length about Activity-based integrated learning and communication which has come to the centre of the equation this pandemic. From incorporating virtual picnics to museum visits and imparting online music lessons, Sheba Thapar shows us the virtual schema of online education in schools.
Following is an excerpt from the interview which Wonderpublish conducted with Sheba Thapar recently:
Q. 1: You know the best kind of learning environments and culture so what do you make of what’s happening right now?
Ans- The experience is all online these days. The routine of the pre-covid days involving innate-practical activities has hit a pause button. The digital classrooms have made parents more involved in their kid’s life as online classes are the need of the hour. But I do feel the physical environment is irreplaceable. Of course, technology bridged a lot of gaps, and I believe it will continue to play a key role.
Q. 2: Since communication is pretty central education, can you tell us how has it changed this pandemic?
Ans- Communication has never been altered because now it’s online so there are a lot of options available in the market. We are connecting on the Zoom, WhatsApp so I feel the connectivity is easier now. And it has been ongoing. It’s not restricted to your traditional 8-to-2 school hours.
In fact, it has become more hectic for the education sector; Especially the teachers. But yes, the communication has been more refined now with pictures and videos being shared smoothly.
Q. 3: Can you tell us what tools you have been using?
Ans- We started with Zoom but later shifted to Microsoft Teams. Then we started training our teachers. There has been a lot of upgradation in the Microsoft Teams app, so we’ve been continuously training our teachers.
Initially, we started with parent orientation. Students have been trained on the same platform alongside their parents. Because children of pre-primary and primary couldn’t have been trained without the presence of their parents. We believe that parent partnership is very important.
And now we are also having the assessments on the same tools.
Q. 4: Teachers already go through traditional training. So how was it for them to begin over?
Ans- In the education sector, learning is always welcomed when it comes to teachers and educators. Gone are the days when we were young and restricted to books. Now the online media is there so learning is happening from everywhere.
It’s very important for teachers to equip themselves on the same lines. Speaking of our teachers, they have been quite welcoming.
Q. 5: Has there been any new responsibilities added to you role?
Ans- Fundamentally, my role remains the same. The number of working hours has certainly increased. We are not restricted to traditional school hours anymore. The connectivity between parents and teachers has increased. Whenever there is a concern it has to be addressed at those very moments.
In live classrooms, the teachers are always there. They are constantly monitoring the children. On one side the teacher is transacting a lesson but what is happening on the other side is very important, so the feedback of the parents is really important. So, I’ve been more in the mode where we collaborate with parents.
My role has changed from training the teachers to get the feedback as to what is happening on the other side of the classroom. We have a lot of feedback sessions with parents. We have webinars. We have involved parents in virtual playdates. We will be coming out with a podcast which would be launched in the mid of December.
We also organised October fest to have the children in the mode of showcasing there activities and hobbies that they have missed during this pandemic. We started with dance, singing and handwriting competitions. So, although physically we are not moving around, we are monitoring every move of what is happening around the school.
Q. 6: Is there any mental health counselling available for kids?
Ans- We have been conducting a lot of one-on-one sessions. Because of the parents’ feedback, we learnt a lot of issues like the child is unable to sit, stress-related issues because children were not moving out of home, lack of physical activity etc. We try to have a healthy combination of academic and physical activities with incorporating Yoga and dance classes in between. Though the issues were not that many, we have our school councillors in place who are conducting regular counselling workshops.
We also started a series of webinars on Saturdays called, Randevu with Xaverians where we introduced and touched upon the issues that are relevant in today’s time like ‘Good touch, bad touch’. We call a guest expert for every episode.
Q. 7: Are there going to be new roles at schools?
Ans- I’m sure moving ahead it’s going to be the amalgamation of both live and online medium. This pandemic has given us experience that we can conduct even PTM (Parent-Teacher Meeting) online. So the future of education is quite bright because when you talk about both lesson transaction and communication with parents the online medium would prove more productive.
Q. 8: Do you think technology can help you even more?
Ans- Learning through digital media is not new to India. The government has been using electronic media since the days of radio. Even programs like Diksha, E-Pathshala, National Repository for Open Educational Resources have been in existence for some time now. Of course, the current situation has put the digital medium into the centre of the equation.
Coding is an upcoming field for which many ed-tech players have entered the market. There has been quite commendable progress in online tools and I’m sure it’s going to grow in the times to come.
Q. 9: What do you make of the new education policy?
Ans- Guidelines have been pretty much welcomed by all the educationists. It talks about the formative years of assessment, integrated curriculum, flexibility in the examination and lot of positive things that were not there in the past. But we need to wait and watch as to how these guidelines get implemented.
Q. 10: When do you think the schools are going to open up again?
Ans- From parents to teachers to even kids who were not very eager to come to school before, want to know that. This is the most frequently asked question. Now the centre has allowed schools to partially re-open for grades 9-12 after September 21st, schools have upped safety measure and have created the blueprint of what in-person learning would look like when they open.
A few schools have also been sending survey forms to the parents asking them their concerns whether the children will be allowed or not. We found out that 85% of them would only allow their kids to return to schools when the vaccine is out. So each school will be adopting the standard operating procedure.
For now, all we need to do is to wait patiently till the right time comes!
Follow Sheba Thapar on LinkedIn