Hema’s (last name withheld on request) life has changed considerably since COVID-19 struck. With parents scared to let kids out of homes, she’s lost over 80% students at her home tuition centre in New Delhi.
“I’m not taking any classes online because there are lots of distractions for students,” 41-year-old Hema told Re:Set. “I used to teach everyday from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Now these five hours have now moved from the pen to the mop,” she told Re:Set.
“With my husband and children at home, I have more work. This was my time, which gave me self-confidence and respect. That has been lost. How much household work will one do?” she added.
Hema teaches all subjects to kids from grades one to ten. After 20 years in the business, she established classes attended by nearly 40 kids, whom she taught everyday. She stopped teaching at the beginning of the lockdown in March to the end of June. Upon restarting the classes, only six to seven kids now come through the back gate to her home and spend an hour learning.
But she feels the damage has already been done.
“I was talking to a parent just now and they were worried about what their child is learning,” she said. “Teachers are burdening kids with rote learning, who are just being asked to copy and paste from powerpoints sent over email. That’s not education. Schools are taking online classes just for fees from the parents.”
According to two other school teachers we spoke with, these classes across most schools start at 9 a.m. and run for about four hours. Students get a 15-minute reprieve after the first two lectures. When giving exams, a few wily children get help from their mothers and technology.
“Two of my grade 5 students have a social studies exam. Their teacher told them the test will cover five chapters of geography one day before the exam. So they sat in front of the screen and cheated off YouTube, while their mother was sitting next to them with an open book,” Hema said. “At least this wasn’t a normal class, where they spend most time playing PUBG.”
COVID-19 has wrecked the tuition and coaching industry at-large. From small independent teachers like Hema to large corporations like Resonance and Allen, everyone is facing the heat. There are less students attending classes, and for larger more lucrative coaching opportunities like the venerable IIT entrance exam, a political struggle has broken out over its postponement.
“My livelihood doesn’t depend on this, as my husband is in a different field, but that was my money. No one could ask me where I spent it. I also saved from it. Now that’s gone,” Hema said, while stretching her opened palm. “Now I have to ask for pocket money. It hurts me a lot. I’ve fallen from the sky to the floor.”
The pandemic’s financial impact on home tutors has been a personal and deep blow.
Manish, a 43-year-old math and science home tutor, would zip around parts of West Delhi on weekdays and venture into South Delhi on the weekends on his bike.
“I’m lucky that my older students haven’t left me,” he told Re:Set. “But I’m not adding any new students, because people are scared of letting in new people in their homes.”
Pre-COVID, Manish taught ten hours a day and now he clocks in the same hours, but now at home, in front of a screen. He’s also gained weight because the only exercise he could squeeze into his daily routine was going up and down the stairs while visiting students’ homes.
“I already wear glasses and now get headaches from looking at the screen all day,” Manish told Re:Set. “Teaching online all day is torture. Going from home to home on my bike was relaxing. Now it’s back to back, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.”
The classes aren’t fun either. Like with Hema, Manish’s students use their phone to look for answers all the time. Sometimes he asks them to WhatsApp him pictures of where they’ve solved a problem which instils some fear in them, but most times the kids are playing games on their phones.
“It affects relationships with your family, so I end up scolding my kids. You can’t help it sometimes.”
Another problem for tutors is education paraphernalia which they used to access when they met students. Manish can’t keep purchasing new textbooks every year, especially when it comes to those assigned by private schools who have books from obscure publishers. Books are an additional cost and some haven’t even completely come out, so he has to download PDFs of chapters everyday. If he can’t find them, his students have to send him pictures of the chapters on WhatsApp ten minutes before class.
With so many changes to his professional lifestyle, the pressure has trickled down to his personal life. He self-admittedly gets frustrated, and sometimes lashes out at his two kids. They too have been home for five months and have to study online, so aren’t in a great mood either.
“Small things come up everyday. Like while setting up classes, students have suddenly gone to bathe. Or just don’t pick up the phone,” he told Re:Set. “With me just sitting at home, with earphones and headaches and trying to get these students to sit down and study, you get frustrated. It affects relationships with your family, so I end up scolding my kids. You can’t help it sometimes.”