Vishnu Karthik sounds unusually upbeat for someone who’s taken eight back-to-back 1.5-hour training sessions for teachers. As the director of India’s Heritage chain of schools, Karthik’s been in mission mode, trying to get teachers acclimatised to a few weeks, or even months, of taking online classes.

“Teachers are also on the frontline of this [Covid-19] crisis. I’ve been telling them we’re not just content providers, we’re now caregivers,” he says.

Karthik first got wind of school closures in Hong Kong in late January, and Heritage acted quickly to shut four branches across New Delhi and nearby Gurugram, even before the official government order came. Teachers were initially coming to school to deliver their online classes, but as Covid-19 transmission fears gripped India’s cities, they were sent home too. “Starting 6 April, we will be running a fully online school,” says Karthik. That’s 8,000 students and 700 teachers.

China’s mega virtual school

The Chinese government has contracted tech companies like Baidu, Tencent and telecom providers like China Mobile, China Telecom to create a National Online Cloud Classroom. The platforms runs on 7000 servers and 90 terabytes of bandwidth, for simultaneous use by 50 million learners

Between the second and third week of March, as the Covid-19 infection rate climbed upwards in India’s major metros, almost 1.5 million pre-, primary, and secondary schools were shut down. In one fell swoop, 260 million children—the highest-school going population in the world—were locked out of their physical school setting. 

The nationwide 21-day lockdown, imposed imposed The Guardian 1.3 billion people under lockdown in India Read more  on 24 March, has all but confirmed that schools need to change tactics rapidly to stay connected with their students. 

Across the country, students across grades nine to 12 are either prepping for national competitive exams like JEE JEE Joint Entrance Exam The Joint Entrance Exam is an entrance exam for admission to various engineering colleges in India. It's internationally regarded as one of the most challenging undergraduate admission tests and NEET NEET National Eligibility Entrance Test The National Eligibility Entrance Test (NEET), formerly the All India Pre-Medical Test (AIPMT), is the qualifying test for MBBS and BDS programmes in Indian medical and dental colleges. It is conducted by the National Testing Agency (NTA). It is held in may every year. or their board exams—a critical academic juncture that determines what college they get into.


Olina Banerji

Based in Delhi, Olina writes about mega-trends in urban mobility, education, skilling and the environment, with a focus on how institutions and innovations can help cities grow sustainably. She is a graduate of the London School of Economics, and has worked previously with India Today and global non-profit Ashoka.

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