English teacher Jayanti Sahoo, standing infornt of blackboard inside an empty classroom in a rural school.
It takes a while for the morning chaos to settle, after the children in the joint family home, ranging from 3 to 10 years of age, are fed breakfast. Around 9 am, 48-year-old Jayanti Sahoo retires to her room to prepare notes, to be sent via WhatsApp to her students. Odisha, where Sahoo is from, was one of the first states to implement a complete lockdown, after Kerala. This meant that state teachers, especially those from government schools, had no example to follow. They had to become the example.
Sahoo’s day begins at 5.30 am; living in a home with five families under a single roof, much of her morning routine is devoted to cooking breakfast and lunch, along with performing the daily puja.
Sahoo is the only woman from the extended family to have a job. She began her teaching career more than 15 years ago at a school in the village of Raghunathpur, in Odisha. Soon after the lockdown was announced, Sahoo and her collegues received a notice about conducting classes online, from the school’s headquarters in Bhubaneswar.
A Class 5 English teacher at an Odia medium school, she settles in after the morning chores are done with, with her own 'homework'. She starts by sending pictures of pages of the latest textbook, since many students have not received theirs during the lockdown.
“I have made WhatsApp groups for different sections of students in Class 5. I prepare the notes a day ahead to send the students, and click pictures of any reading exercises from the textbook to send them too,” she explains.
The students have been given daily time slots to resolve their queries.
The next step is to reach out to students who do not have access to the internet, let alone a smartphone. These students are asked to procure used books from their school seniors, and begin their studies. Sahoo keeps a tab on them by randomly calling their parents, to make sure they are following their academic routine. She says she makes similar surprise calls to all her students.
“This takes a majority of my day. When I am not busy working, I cook for the family along with the other women,” she says. Sahoo’s day ends at midnight, as the women clean up after the family has eaten dinner.
Sahoo’s school conducted tests during the lockdown too. The questions and time limits were sent to the students’ guardians, who were asked to monitor that they finished in time, of course, without cheating. “We have to trust the guardians in this case. It’s nearly impossible to gauge if the students are honest or not,” Sahoo says.
With her son now in college, Sahoo monitors his academic progress too. This is an integral part of her day. But, she emphasises, no digital classroom can replace the interactions of physical teaching. “We need to classroom teaching so we can gauge the student’s progress, judging by their demeanor and so many other aspects. This is not possible through online classes,” she says.
This is part of a daily series on how Covid-19 has upended the lives of essential workers across the country. Read more here