COVID-19 & online classes: Why this letter from Kolkata’s Patha Bhavan High School to its students can be a lesson for all schools for their perspective on learning & teaching

With schools around the world closed due to COVID-19, new ways have emerged on learning online. But the divide between the privileged and underprivileged is getting wider as many children are being left out of this new form of learning due to lack of access to the internet.

Yet very few schools — whose students enjoy the advantage of access to the internet — are pointing this out to their children, and don’t seem to think it important to ask them to look at this forced lockdown and isolation from a different perspective. Is there life beyond marks, completing the syllabus and examinations? Do schools need to tell their children about doing something creative right now instead of “completing the syllabus” and “doing well in examinations”?

Kolkata’s Patha Bhavan High School has chosen to walk the unusual path during this forced COVID-19 break from school.

In a letter – written on April 18 – Patha Bhavan teacher-in-charge Subha Gupta told the students of her school that we are tired and upset about this forced isolation “perhaps because we were accustomed to a fixed routine all this while”, and we can get new insight and understanding only if we try to look at this time differently.

She wrote in the two-page letter (read the letter below in Bengali) that in the days ahead, people will look back into the past and refer to events to have taken place “before” or “after” Coronavirus. Gupta said that it is thus important to look at this time we are going through as something significant, and to think deeply about this transition. She pointed out that this is an opportunity now to look closely at the simple things in our daily life that we may never have looked at before – like a tree outside the window, an electric light post, the life of a lizard living in our room and to explore the essence of our relations with parents, siblings and other members of the family.

The letter, which the teacher-in-charge said was written with inputs from many Patha Bhavan teachers – asked children to express what they are thinking about right now.  “This is also the time so many thoughts come to mind which we would not have thought of under different circumstances,” said the letter, asking students to jot down these thoughts every day like notes in a diary, or to write stories, poems, essays, short films or plays. The school also encouraged the children to recite poems, dance and sing during this time – in order to avoid the gloom and despair of being stuck indoors.

Gupta’s letter also mentioned that some school work is being sent for the children during this time, but explained that working on them can bring joy only if it is seen as something meant for practice and enjoyment and not from the perspective of examinations and competition. Children were told that there were several times in history when isolation and confinement have been used by some people as opportunity for creativity instead of looking at it as something negative. “The world remembers them with respect,” the letter said.

Asking children to remain fit in body and mind, the letter also encouraged them to note that our own wishes and demands are also related to and dependent on others. They were asked to take good care of themselves as well as others around them.

According to Subha Gupta, there are no online classes for Patha Bhavan High School students till class X. Online classes – though not on a regular basis – are being taken for classes XI and XII. For students up to class X, some lessons are being explained through voice or video recordings over WhatsApp. “We are not taking regular classes. Only some lessons are being taken from time to time,” she explained.

Gupta said that the school has already made announcement for the summer vacation ahead. “Schools are closed till June 10 for the time being due to the lockdown. Once we go ahead and see what happens around that time, we can work out our next plan. The only way children can fight this forced lockdown is through creativity, not following syllabus and competition and studies. Patha Bhavan has always been different in this,” Gupta said.

This is the letter in Bengali:




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