by Christina Mascarenhas & Father Bernard Fernandes for BISMumbai

A month and half have elapsed since the online platform for teaching and learning came to the fore following the COVID-19. During this time, our Salesian institutions kept pace with the developments at the state and national level following the guidelines and circulars issued by the Government and the Education Department at regular intervals, the most recent being ‘Pragyata - Guidelines for Digital Education’ released by the HRD on 15 July 2020. The 2nd online meeting of the Mumbai Salesians’ Principals in the new scholastic year 2020-21 focused on this document to respond effectively in our own settings.

The meeting of the heads of educational institutions was held on 25 July 2020 via Google Meet. The session was coordinated by Father Bernard Fernandes, Principal Don Bosco High School Matunga. Father Crispino D’Souza, Rector Don Bosco Matunga, opened the meeting with a prayer. Provincial Father Savio Silveira then addressed the assembly. He commended the heads of institution for their contribution in the field of education during the pandemic to ensure continuity of education to our students. He pointed out that while we are in the field of education and transacting the syllabus- and presently in the new scenario, this is the focus of attention- a Salesian school is never only about academics. It is about the well being of our students. Father Silveira then went on to explain the aspects of wellbeing. He enumerated:

· Basic necessities: There are many of our schools catering to children from deprived backgrounds. Are our children getting their needs of food satisfied? We need to check on them and monitor their needs.

· Psychological wellbeing: The pandemic is going to impact mental health in a big way. Well known psychiatrist Dr. Harish Shetty predicts that following the pandemic, we will face a pandemic of mental health.

· Social wellbeing has been impacted. Social interaction is now in the virtual and that is a hard reality to deal with.

He added, “As a Salesian educator each of us is called to live the qualities of Concern and Compassion. It is loving kindness which translates into loving concern that Don Bosco talks about.” Father Silveira asked the heads to be particularly compassionate to their staff who, besides the regular hours of work, have their families and their concerns. There ought to be a balance of demands for work and a compassionate understanding of their needs.

Introducing the session Father Fernandes said “the document ‘Pragyata’ was a rich document that provides us guidelines for online education and that we ought to respond to the challenging situation within our own settings.” He extended his gratitude to Father Silveira for the support proffered to the Principals right through their online teaching venture and accompanying them constantly with his valuable inputs. He then introduced the team of Heads of Institutes who were to present the document under different sections. He made a mention of Bindu Chaddha, Counsellor-Psychotherapist at Don Bosco International School who graciously accepted the invitation to address the Principals on ground-reality mental health issues faced by children and staff due to the online education and the pandemic crisis.

This document comprising six sections was thereafter presented with the help of effective power point presentations by the resource persons. To make this document more practical and align it to our set-up, each individual presenting the section proposed one or two ways to respond to the situation:

1. Section I – Introduction-Understanding Digital/ Online Education: Father Bernard Fernandes

2. Section II -PRAGYATA- Steps for Digital and Online Education: Christina Mascarenhas (AHM, DB Matunga)

3. Section III -Guidelines for School Heads, Teachers, Parents and Students: Valerie Mascarenhas (Principal, DS Andheri)

4. Section IV -Guidelines for Physical Health & Mental Wellness during Digital Education: Sangita Bhattacharya (Principal, SJ Wadala)

5. Section V - Guidelines for State/UT Administration: Anita Philip (Secondary Supervisor, DB Matunga)

6. Section VI - National Initiatives for Digital Education and Teacher Preparation: Father Justus Mendis (Principal, DB Savedi)

7. Emotional and mental health of students in the context of online classes – ground reality: Bindu Chaddha (Counselor DBIS Matunga and psychotherapist)

The session concluded with Father Fernandes summing up the presentation with some practical take-aways such as assessment, counselling and organizing of gadgets/devices for online education of the poorer students.