The COVID-19 pandemic has presented difficult challenges for school leaders. Schools that are particularly located in rural areas are facing problems both in terms of financial impact as well as the digital divide.
We interviewed Mr. Pawan Kumar, School Director of New Adarsh Public School in Karnal, Haryana, India and his Vice Principal, Mr. Devendra about the challenges that they and their team members have faced during this uncertain time.
Starting New Adarsh Public School
Can you share how your school started and how it has grown?
We started the school in 2008 and ours was the first English medium school in the entire village. We started with 250 students and now we have reached 850 students and expanded to senior secondary wing. At present we also offer all subjects like arts, commerce, and science to higher classes. In this year’s board exams, we have 22 students from grade 10th who achieved merit list and 24 students secured a 1st division. We are proud to say that we admitted those students who had been rejected by other schools and this year around 18 of these students passed the board exams with good marks.
Financial Impacts of the pandemic
What steps have you taken to mitigate the financial impact of lockdown? Are you receiving any financial support?
The first step that we took was to make our staff understand the gravity of the crisis that we are going through and gave them a clear picture of our school’s finances. I am grateful that our teaching staff pledged to cooperate with us in terms of accepting a salary freeze.
In the initial days of lockdown, the state government had passed the order of ‘no school, no fee collection’ which meant that parents who had the means to pay could refuse, which has now been reversed. However, less than 10% of parents have paid school fees for this academic year. Some parents are paying pending fees from the last academic year.
The state government still owes RTE reimbursements (Right to Education Act, 2009) which would have been a major source of relief to us during this time. We have also submitted written letters to the state education department to help us in terms of returning the school’s pledge money (i.e. security deposit to gain recognition from the education board). Also, we have asked for relief in terms of writing off road and other taxes for school vans.
We are expecting that the Haryana State Government will allow schools to restart from the month of September for senior classes only. If this happens, we are expecting fee collection to start for those students. Once schools reopen, we will be able to recover fees and pay off our mandatory expenses.
How has your school approached the ongoing teaching of students during lockdown?
Conducting online classes in a rural area has its own challenges and many students who do not have access to smartphones or internet service get left out in the process. We started sending teachers to student’s homes to conduct classes. We are following the odd-even scheme. On one day we teach a group of class 10th boys and on the next day we teach girls at their homes.
The response for these home classes has been very encouraging and, on average, we have had 99% of class attendance every day. Based on this success we are also planning the logistics to extend this service of home classes following the odd-even rule to other grades.
What has the response been to online learning and what steps is your teaching staff taking to make the classes interesting?
Yes, we are offering online classes to the students who we are not offering home classes. We called up parents to inform about these classes and created a class wise WhatsApp group. We send study materials, videos, class activities, homework on these WhatsApp groups. Conducting online classes in rural areas is a big challenge because of the digital divide, access to devices, many parents not being educated, and even weak network signal.
We are getting a good response from parents and students. Some students have formed home study groups where they share their devices. Also, our teachers who live in the same village share their phones and students visit their homes to take help from their teachers and classmates.
Pathways to Reopening
What has been your experience with our Pathways to Reopening (India) story series?
A favorite among my teaching staff has been the stories of Farming School where we learned how children can remain engaged with their parents as well as learn a lot of life skills, science, maths while helping their parents in the fields, kitchen etc. This was specifically useful to us as most of our parents are farmers and are not literate.
In my case the story that stood out the most was the story of Ms. Rubina, who planned for Health and Safety measures for her school’s reopening. The kind of planning that is mentioned in the stories is extremely detailed. After reading the series of stories on health and safety I am thoroughly clear as to what health and safety measures must be taken once schools reopen. The meticulous planning regarding implementing an odd-even formula to call students to school, how to manage arrival and dispersal of parents systemically, how to manage students who will arrive early or leave late, this guide gave a bird’s eye view about every aspect of school reopening.