Kamla Nehru Public School (KNPS), founded in 2007, is a progressive school running under the aegis of the Central Board of Secondary Education, Delhi. Located in the Chak Hakim village in Punjab, the school was declared a Microsoft Associate School in 2015 and Microsoft School in 2016. The school was declared Microsoft Showcase School in 2017 and a 2020–2021 Microsoft Showcase School. Led by principal Paramjeet Kaur Dhillon, it is involved in providing its students with twenty-first century skills, while emphasizing a balanced approach between academics and extracurricular activities. The school offers kindergarten to grade 12 education, and its students belong mostly to modest households. It became a Microsoft Showcase school in 2015. In response to the COVID-19 health crisis, the school moved to virtual classrooms with the help of Microsoft Teams.
Transitioning from physical to virtual classes
In March 2020, the COVID-19 health crisis struck India, and it forced the country into a nationwide lockdown. Businesses, livelihoods, and education were impacted, as all were restricted to their own homes. KNPS, like other educational institutions, had to transition to digital classrooms for its students. The school faced the following challenges in the process:
- Setting up a virtual platform for remote learning
- Training teachers on the virtual platform and its features
- Making parents and students adapt to the new normal
- Retaining the quality of instruction
“The lockdown was a situation no one had imagined. One year in the life of an adult may not be much, but it is a significant amount of time for a child. We were looking for a solution for students to continue learning even during the lockdown, restricted to the confines of their homes, shielded from the virus,” says Dhillon.
Making remote learning effective
The digital transformation in the “new normal” was comparatively smoother for this school because of its foresight and alacrity. Moreover, the school had already tried to introduce integrated digital learning in 2015 with its move to bring-your own device (BYOD). After this, the students had been sharing devices and familiarizing themselves with Microsoft learning tools such as OneNote for taking notes, Sway for making presentations, and Kahoot! for game-based learning. So KNPS had a head start over many other schools in the country in going digital.
When reports of COVID-19 infection began surfacing in December 2019, not only did the school foresee the inevitable arrival of the virus in India and the resultant large-scale lockdown, but also started training its teachers on Microsoft Teams to prepare for virtual classrooms.
KNPS did not want to compromise on the quality of education imparted, nor did it want the students to miss out on learning during the lockdown.
The teachers structured classes and conducted mock sessions with each other. They introduced certain changes to suit the new medium of instruction. Some mathematics teachers used the Microsoft Whiteboard tool so their students could see them solving sums by hand. The result was a seamless transition from physical to virtual classrooms for teachers, students and their parents. KNPS rolled out the remote learning program as early as April 2020.
Dhillon brought all of this together with her strong leadership and progressive attitude toward technology as an enabler of learning. She monitored the virtual classes and made sure the interactions between the teachers and students did not feel mechanical or distant.
The experience of the students was also encouraging. They found the classes to be relaxed with a good mix of activities and breaks. Students from 65 farming villages signed in on smartphones, tablets, and laptops with recently upgraded internet data plans.
A “well-being” module was added, too. Teachers asked students about their day or other interests to take their minds off the separation and difficulties the crisis had imposed. The school also tried to mitigate the physical separation of students by using Teams features such as Together mode and Large Gallery view, which offer a semblance of closeness.
Looking at new possibilities
The empowerment of teachers has been exponential. The digital transformation that the teachers have become acclimatized to in the last few months would have taken a few years under normal circumstances.
The effectiveness of the KNPS model has resulted in more admissions. Now, 150 new students have signed up to pursue their grade 11 education remotely at the school—a new record.
“The remote learning model has opened a world of opportunities that we can explore. Our classrooms have no walls. We could have branches now. Why can’t we have a parallel virtual school also?” concludes Dhillon.