As a consultant working in the corporate field, Neha’s day begins at 6am. “I work for 12 to 13 hours with very few breaks,” says the Mumbai-based mother on the phone. Things came to a head last year when her five-year-old son’s classes went online due to the covid-19 pandemic. “It was difficult to make him sit through classes and I could see he didn’t enjoy them.”
On the advice of his class teacher, Neha hired a tutor to sit with her son during the classes as she worked. “The tutor made him feel comfortable, and helped him understand what was being taught in class,” she says. Things ran smoothly until the second wave of the pandemic engulfed the country. “My workload increased but the tutor couldn’t come. I started looking for a tuition teacher and hired a new one in July,” says Neha. Now, the teacher accompanies her son to the daycare centre nearby, where both attend the 90-minute classes. “She also helps him practice writing and finish his worksheets during the class itself,” says Neha.
Part online, part offline
As the vaccination rate picked up, parents had to return to offices even as preschools remained shut or experimented with a hybrid model of online and offline classes. “If you have more than 15 children in a class, you have to alternate between online and offline classes,” explains Dr Swati Popat Vats, president of the Early Childhood Association and president of Podar Education Network. “You can’t have the whole class together because you have to leave one seat empty between two children. Schools in places like Punjab have bigger classrooms so maintaining social distancing between children is much easier. But in cities like Mumbai and Bengaluru where classes are much smaller, it won’t be that easy.”
States like Punjab, Delhi, Bihar and more recently Karnataka have reopened preschools. “Maharashtra, notably, hasn’t opened up yet. But I have to point out that many daycare centres have still reopened in the state—it’s illegal and they don’t follow safety protocols,” says Dr. Vats who has received several complaints from parents but suggests they complain to the local authority instead. But she’s all for re-opening schools. “I fail to understand the idea behind not reopening preschools and daycare centres because doctors have said young children are at low risk during the pandemic,” she adds.
Monitoring online classes
Mumbai-based Brain Gain preschool, where students are two-and-a-half to five-and-a-half years old, trains and sends teachers to children’s homes for one-on-one, personalized classes based on the preschool’s curriculum. In September last year, as overworked parents with digital fatigue reached out for help, the preschool began sending 45 teachers to children’s homes across Mumbai to monitor them during their online classes. “Parents are not trained to teach young children—they don’t know the technique. They end up getting frustrated,” says Neeta Ramchandani, co-founder of Brain Gain and principal of Mumbai Montessori Teacher Training Institute. “Tutors, on the other hand, make sure that the child pays attention to the class teacher. They explain everything, help with arts and crafts and worksheets during the class.”
However, by June this year, the demand for such teachers came down to 15. “Last week, we got two calls asking for teachers but parents are not willing to spend more than ₹4500 or ₹5000 per month for this service, so it becomes difficult to get good, trained teachers.”
Inspired by the trend of parents in Turkey hiring ‘big sisters’ to play with their children while also tutoring them during the pandemic, Turkish national Burcu Yagiz searched for someone similar in Mumbai. She finally hired a high school teacher-turned-nanny to help with her six-year-old twins’ classes. “We sit with the kids during their online classes. She takes down notes and we help the kids with their homework together.”
Bengaluru-based fashion consultant and events coordinator Binal Trivedi found it difficult to manage her six-year-old’s classes while working full-time. “I felt that having a professional teacher come home was the best choice for my child,” she says. She eventually chose KLAY Preschools and Daycare's Edukarer programme.
Launched in September this year, the programme offers parents the option of having a trained teacher at home for two, four or eight hours, five days a week. AK Srikanth, CEO, KLAY Preschools and Daycare, explains that the gradual reopening of physical offices for working parents was a key development which contributed to the launch of the programme. “We found the need to support parents with at-home tutors who will help young children sit through the classes, help with assignments, engage the child with multiple hands-on learning activities and offer value added care services like feeding, putting the child to sleep, taking them outdoors to play; essentially, help them get into a constructive routine,” he says.