This is how technology keeps Sikkim, Arunachal students up-to-date amid covid crisis

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By Phuntsog Namgyal Bhutia & Nitesh R Pradhan 

GANGTOK | April 18:

It's 9:30 in the morning and somewhere in the foothills of Mount Everest, in the tiny villages of Bomdila (Arunachal Pradesh), Solukhumbu (Nepal), Paro (Bhutan), and Yuksom(Sikkim), Taktse International School students opened their mobile hotspots, connected their laptops and joined their teachers and classmates for a class over Google Meet. This is how Taktse students have been learning for the past one month.

Given the circumstances, this could quite easily be the scenario for most of the students and schools around the globe, but what makes this different for Taktse is the continuous and conscious effort every member of the organization is making to turn this into an engaging learning process.

Interestingly, it was one of the first moves in getting the Distance Learning Model (DLM) started for its students. The plan has been led by Ann M. Lindsey, Head of School, Academic, who is deeply committed to use of technology in education.

She says "We rolled out the DLM within five days of the initiation of lock-down. We made a segmented plan for Lower, Middle and Upper School based on the comfort of the children with online learning. We tested various tools for communication and collaboration and we started delivering classes from Monday, 23 March itself. Our teachers have done a great job in ensuring that the students did not have any gap in the schedule of learning plans"

The  upper school staff is delivering 98 classes per week through Zoom, Google Classrooms and Google Meet. Students in the lower and middle sections have read 650 books within three weeks, spending hours reading via Scholastic Online Reading and Reading AtoZ programs, and learning math and science via Khan Academy.  Beyond these online tools, students receive weekly lessons and activities from each of their teachers, along with feedback and notes about how they are progressing with their learning.  

The teachers, to keep the students engaged, are simultaneously engaging in intense professional development to learning how to deliver high quality education online.

"I am building experience of developing new ideas and growing as a creative thinker," Ms. Smriti, Kindergarten teacher quotes, as she works with renowned Prof. Mitch Resnic from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

"I am learning how to identify, address and reflect upon my teaching through writing collaboratively with educators around India," Ms. Donka, Middle School Math Teacher quotes, as she gets mentored by Dr. Neeraja Raghavan, PHD Princeton University, author of the Reflective Learner and creator of thinkingteacher.in

Taktse parents are also spending a daily average of two to three hours with their students, doing read alouds, helping with assignments, and learning how to use online resources. 

The Alumni of Takse have also taken lead in this regard. Kitsho and Sonam Phuntsho from Bhutan have started online creative writing workshops for students (Taktse and non-Taktse) and parents called ISBN975(find them on Instagram and Facebook). And several other alumni, both in the USA and Bhutan, have started tutoring math and science to current students, and Simrin is working on an educational incentive project for education in Sikkim. 

The administrators of the school have deployed a survey to ask parents, students, and teachers about how the Distance Learning Model could be adapted to their needs and context. 

The school has learned that there are real challenges to implementing the DLM: Teachers, many of whom are taking care of their own parents and grandparents during the shutdown, have a tremendous amount of work to do to keep students up-to-date. Parents, many of whom are serving vital roles in government or taking care of family members, are also stretching themselves to keep students healthy and happy. Students are missing their friends and "the Taktse style of learning" that comes from working on problem solving collaboratively and, of course, the wide open space of the campus. Internet connections are an issue for many. 

But the school presses on, knowing that if they continue to listen and learn, the students will gain important skills and knowledge even in this global crisis. The Taktse teachers are the heroes of this DLM, trying to  touch base with every student, identifying those who need more support, and generating strategies to support them.

'I am able to assess my ward's aptitude and take part in her studies' as quoted by one of the parents.

'It makes us much more Independent' as quoted by a student.

'It is flexible. Students are being able to pursue their course and complete their coursework despite the barrier caused by this challenging time.' as quoted  by a teacher.

"There will be many changes in the lives of our students. But if we can make them life-long learners, if they can keep connected to friends and family (especially your wonderful grandparents) and of course, if they keep reading,they will come out of these hard times stronger. We are committed to helping our students through the hard times. This is what it means to be part of the Taktse Family. In fact this is what all of us can teach our children during this challenging time." says, Mr. Phuntsog Namgyal Bhutia, Admin and Student Life Officer.

It's 8pm at night and somewhere in the foothills of Mount Everest, in tiny villages of Bomdila (Arunachal Pradesh), Solukhumbu (Nepal), Paro (Bhutan), and Yuksom(Sikkim), Taktse International School students close their manga, their novellas, their sketchbooks and the visual science encyclopedias they have been pursuing for pleasure, go and wish their families good night, get the nightly blessing from their grandparents and start heading to bed for a well deserved rest. 

Taktse Distance Learning Model Recommendations: 

  1. Scholastic Reading Program
  2. Khan Academy 
  3. Facebook Pages: Edutopia, Free Technology for teachers 
  4. Learning platforms:Audible, RAZ Kids, BrainPop, Twinkl, Mathletics, Entrepreneurship, Family Learning Activities (free trials offered  during COVID)
  5. Mindfulness and Meditation: https://www.mindfulschools.org/
  6. MIT course for teachers: https://ocw.mit.edu/high-school/more/for-teachers/
  7. Online Creative Writing Workshops: Sign up on through Instagram by searching for ISBN975 (With inputs from Takse DLM Team)