Schools (mostly government schools) serving midday meals have been turned into food centres for the hungry and vulnerable during ‘coronavirus lockdown’ and like healthcare facilities and health workers, these schools and teachers on duty are serving on the frontline against covid-19 outbreak
The neighborhood school has traditionally been always the place where government and community come together either in times of adversity or a transformative partnership. And the teacher is the important link between the two. This role of schools and teachers is visible once again as the coronavirus pandemic has brought about an unprecedented requirement of a national lockdown forcing millions of daily wagers, menial workers and other vulnerable people into hunger and despair.
So the governments have picked up schools to serve as food centres as their midday meal expertise comes handy so does their community connection. With invocation of Disaster Management Act in most places, teachers particularly under age of 50 years have been drafted into this relief and emergency work. Unheard and unknown even in imagination, the corona epidemic is shaping a new normal and distributed work.
In words of Ajay Kumar Choubey, Principal of the RPVV (Rajkiya Pratibha Vikas Vidyalaya), Hari Nagar (Delhi), COVID-19 pandemic has brought us to a situation of life and death and posed the biggest challenge to the humanity. “During such pandemics there is a natural tendency for people to secure themselves and as it gets more intense and threatening, humanity becomes the causality as individual becomes self-centred to save him or herself. We as teachers must take lead and help the humanity,” he adds. Speaking about how his school, which is also a food centre of the Delhi government, has learnt its lessons, he explains how he has transformed his centre from a purely sarkari food distribution to a community food distribution centre. “We involved nearby Gurudwara, social organizations and volunteers because as we know government effort is necessary in this kind of situation but it is not enough. Many people out of self-respect or other reasons don’t come to take food. So in an effort that nobody remains hungry and slips out, community participation is good idea. Also, our people particularly those who are hungry and without food forget observing routine norms at times, let alone social distancing, so volunteers are always welcome to keep these norms.”
Leading from front principal Choubey, who himself oversees the food distribution work at his school, has also put up a ration card facilitation centre where volunteers help those without ration card register for one so that they receive free ration as announced by the government. According to him it is not only on duty teachers, who can contribute in this effort, rather all teachers must reach out to their children and inquire about any food requirement their families. In case of difficulty, they can bring that into notice of people.
A second aspect of this lockdown crisis has been mental health and principal Choubey, who is one of the finest mentors in the country says teachers have a big responsibility in ensuring children are happy and do interesting work during stay at home. He says: “We have to make sure that when children are not coming to school, they remain engaged in some interesting way by a question, project or other activity day after day. We can compensate the loss of three months of study in remain nine months so we shouldn’t be doing anything that adds to misery of children or lessen their enthusiasm and self-confidence. People have started lessons through online technology mode, which is good but let’s not forget it has be active learning. The demand must come from students, we can just support by way of explanations and material etc. Teachers also must desist from signaling our children in whatsapp groups as it may adversely affect mental health of those children.”
In nutshell, the interaction in virtual space with use of technology tools must keep communication going so that the physical distance doesn’t come in way of teachers reaching out to students and vice-versa.
Principal Choubey sums by beautifully by saying that the time is for schools to prove their community leadership and help them face this historic challenge and in the way teachers will also prove themselves as Covid warriors.
—By Autar Nehru