Zooming Through Life

Rajesh Tandon

My nephew’s four-year-old daughter Bulbul began her first-ever schooling last year. She had her school bag ready, but nowhere to go? So, she was ‘guided’ by her enthusiastic parents to attend school online? After her first year of ‘schooling’, she has mastered the ‘fine art’ of online education. She is ready with ‘Good Morning Madam’ at 9 am; then mutes her mike and closes the video, and moves on to real fun learning activities with her elder sibling…singing, dancing, painting, shouting, biking, harassing parents, etc. Given her last name, she is called to give her ‘opinions’ on homework of the past week later in the morning; she has timed it well, so around 10.30 am she is unmuted, showing her face and smiling intelligently, giving her answer when called upon. Class over at 11 am.

Bulbul is now ready to ‘graduate’ to high school, possibly in a couple of years!

My friend’s housemaid has two daughters, elder Smita in grade 11, ready to complete her high school. Smita’s mother has been working overtime, in many houses, to earn enough to educate both daughters. Smita and her sister have been attending a government school and studying very seriously. When Covid locked her out of school, Smita did not know what to do first.

Then, she was ‘advised’ by my friend to study online. Smita opened her school book, a new chapter, looked at it curiously, and then looked at the fancy mobile phone that my friend had offered her to use. She was confused till she got a message from her school that online classes have begun. Delighted, Smita found out that her teachers will send some learning questions on WhatsApp to her mother’s phone (registered with school as she is under 18 years of age). Smita waited for a few weeks, then one day, five questions related to the new chapter arrived on WhatsApp. Smita was told to write answers to those questions in her copy and take the copy to school every week for the teacher to review and comment. Since there are about 100 students in her class, the turnaround from teachers does take some time, understandably. Smita has learned the ‘fine art’ of selecting answers from books to the questions sent on WhatsApp.

Smita is now ready to go to college next year!

My colleague’s son Rakesh was admitted into a top-notch private university last year. He is an avid tennis player and musician. He was keen to join this university (even though a bit expensive) because it has good facilities. After one year of online education (with full fees), he was ‘pushed’ on campus this year by his parents, only to realize his education is online, and sports facilities are closed. He has now learned online sports (and related gaming) which is also a new source of betting and livelihood. Some of his close friends are not on campus, so he is continuing to nurture ‘intimacy’ online, from campus. His expanding versatile repertoire of online platforms for several ‘invisible, yet enjoyable’ skills will take him places after he completes his degree in economics.

Rakesh is now ready to become a ‘jugaad’ entrepreneur instructor of economics!

I was recently invited to give a talk on sustainable development to a new batch of university faculty under a compulsory faculty induction programme. More than a hundred faculty were registered on zoom. I could see the faces of the Chair of my session and the moderator introducing me. In a 90 minutes session, 45 minutes were kept for Q&A, after my ‘supposedly’ stimulating and inspiring lecture. When I finished, no hands were raised, no questions were posed, and the session was ‘wound up’ in one hour.

Such university teachers are now ready to teach on zoom!

Then, a professional development programme for senior leaders of civil society was being conducted online. Each participant had paid fees, and was expected to do some readings online before the ‘guest speaker’ (yours truly) was ‘zoomed in’. Of 35 participants, I could hear the voice of 3, and see the face of one. All others were ‘listening’? Passively listening? Actively playing games? Watching films? Cooking lunch? Resting? Netflixing?

These leaders are ready to ‘zoom-lead’ their enterprises working on rural drinking water, sanitation, and organic agriculture!

Given my age, I may be both tired and cynical by now. I have been myself guilty of convening and participating in dozens of zoom webinars. Sometimes, I have been zooming in and out between a series of sequential zoom sessions. And at times, I have been at more than one zoom session simultaneously.

But now, I am zoomed out. I am beginning to realize that increased global connectivity does not necessarily translate into enhanced local actions. I am now convinced that theories and approaches of ‘buildbackbetter’, ‘buildbackfairer’, ‘buildforwardcleaner’, and other versions of our post-pandemic recovery dreams are just conversations devoid of any direct actions on the ground.

Such actions are being zoomed out as both air-time and byte-time are being fully occupied by zooming activities, leaving little time, energy, and resources for taking actions to make concrete changes in our everyday life, in our community actions, and in our professional work lives. New ideas, new relationships, and new policies are online, just remain online. It sounds so much fun to be connecting around the world online; in comparison offline (on the ground, face-to-face) looks passe!

If you are on ‘zoom’, you will ‘zoom through life’ readily. If you are not, prayers are the best alternative from today (religious period of Navratra..nine days of worshipping Goddesses begins today in India).

This article was first published in Times of India titled Zooming Through Life dated 7 October 2021

Read another piece on Trust Matters by Rajesh Tandon titled Trust Matters in IMPRI Insights

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Read another piece on Sports and Villages in India by Rajesh Tandon titled National Sports Teams are Built in Villages of India in IMPRI Insights

Read another piece on Trust and Vaccine hesitancy by Rajesh Tandon titled Trust Deficit Leads To Vaccine Hesitancy in IMPRI Insights

Read another piece on Second Wave by Rajesh Tandon titled Rapid & Widespread Civil Society Response during Second Wave in India in IMPRI Insights

Read another piece on Relief Amidst COVID-19 by Rajesh Tandon titled Empowering Relief Amidst Covid-19 in IMPRI Insights

Read another piece on Civil Society and Global Action by Rajesh Tandon titled Global Call To Action: Encouraging Civil Society in IMPRI Insights

Read another piece on COVID-19 Waves by Rajesh Tandon titled As Waves Rise, We Keep Falling! in IMPRI Insights

About The Author

Dr Rajesh Tandon

Dr Rajesh Tandon is Founder President of PRIA, New Delhi. He is also a Guest Speaker with IMPRI, New Delhi.