Lockdown Economy India in a Career Academy for Young Adults with Chandan Chauhan

The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Deepti Sharma

Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world.

In this interview, we meet Chandan Chauhan, the Owner of Career Cafe Institute, an academy in Delhi-NCR. Mr Chauhan emphasised on how the pandemic has affected the psychology of students and their thought process during the lockdown. He went on to discuss the challenges teachers faced in upgrading to an online system of teaching and why he personally prefers to impart education face to face or in a physical mode. From reduced enrollment to network issues to inability of evaluating actual student growth to eventually adapting online education fully Mr Chauhan and his team of faculty have come a long way during the lockdown. Finally he gave some creative suggestions to overcome the problems the pandemic has thrown in the path of students and teachers alike. He is hopeful of getting a nod from the government to open coaching institutes for students soon, but with precautions of course and seeks support from students for a wider reach.

Watch the video version of the interview.

Mr Chauhan, please tell us about your coaching institute.

Chandan: Namaskar( greeting in Hindi)! My name is Chandan Chauhan. I’m a professionally trained teacher and I run 2 institutes — Career Cafe Institute & House of Learning. Both of my institutes are located in sector 21B of Faridabad. We’ve online pages by the name of Career Cafe Institute. People can connect with us on Facebook or Instagram.

Does your page feature all the details for somebody looking to reach you or you’d like to add something?

Chandan: We put all the general information while creating it such as our working hours, contact numbers and our location. Any student can easily connect with us by referring to our online pages. Besides information like timing schedules and coaching subjects is also carried in our pages.

Please elaborate on the subjects and the classes you teach.

Chandan: As far as subjects are concerned, we primarily teach the students of classes 9th to 12th. Apart from that we also have students from BCom, BA and those preparing for polytechnic entrance exams. Additionally, we run vocational courses whereby we impart training in spoken English and basic computer knowledge. Subject preferences are included in the total education fees.

When did you start Career Cafe Institute and how many teachers do you have?

Chandan: I established Career Cafe approximately seven years ago. Back then I had a smaller team of faculty but it has expanded to include 7–8 well-trained teachers as we’re speaking.

How has the lockdown and the pandemic affected your business?

Chandan: Nationwide lockdown was imposed in India in the view of Covid pandemic on 22 March 2020. It sort of triggered a panic mode in our institute. We confronted many issues because of it starting with an atmosphere of fear and panic in the minds of our students. They got worried about being unable to attend the institute during the lockdown. With schools & colleges closing down, students kept calling us to enquire things like- how will we manage, when will the institute reopen, how long will the lockdown last, etc. So, this was one of the first issues we faced among a host of many other issues which we tackled through the lockdown.

There was a slew of doubts in the minds of students regarding their studies and their next course of action. We kept encouraging our students to keep up with their studies and assured them that we’re with them in these unprecedented times of lockdown. In fact, at times we had to personally counsel them over video calls.

Few days into the lockdown the government informed that schools and colleges will remain shut for a longer time but institutes can adopt alternatives like online classes. So, upgrading ourselves as teachers was another issue. We might be good as teachers at face to face teaching but speaking on behalf of the whole teaching community I’d say there are many teachers who struggled with the up-gradation. They were having a hard time switching from copy- pen & chalk to online. Unfamiliarity with the online setup was as much a problem for students as for the teachers. Being teachers we had to push ourselves.

Online classes need a strong network connection, in absence of which we can’t really keep up with the student or his activities and evaluate the same. These are a few of the problems we encountered.

Amongst all the challenges you faced, it was especially challenging for the teachers to shift from offline to online classes. All of us have been witness to all the pains teachers have taken to teach their students. What were some of the challenges you personally faced?

Chandan: The sudden reduction in my class size was challenging for me. I have been teaching for seven years and each batch consists of at least 30–35 students as is the norm in coaching classes. During the lockdown, some of the students didn’t want to enrol in online classes because of their unfamiliarity with it. Even parents were not too enthusiastic. So personally speaking I felt the strain of reduced batches and batch size. Moving on, I wasn’t able to give my 100% in the online medium when compared to face to face teaching. There are several methods to teach — whether a lecture method or a brainstorming method — which aren’t as effective in online mode. Thirdly, evaluation posed an issue. We test student growth after having taught for 4–5 months just like in school. I wasn’t able to judge the mental ability or growth of the students. I used to hand out online tests in the evening, but unfair means can be used in this setup by the student. So, if a student is scoring 8 out of 10, even then I wasn’t able to gauge his or her actual mental ability. This issue still persists and I’m trying to tackle it.

How did you solve these issues?

Chandan: First of all we personally called each & every parent as well as student and counselled them regarding enrolment in online classes. Physical classes would have eventually happened but the studies couldn’t be compromised in the meanwhile. Yeah, so at first we got the students enrolled in online classes, then there was a personal obligation on me to make a shift to online mode. We tried various methods of online teaching. As per government notification we’ve all the apps like Google, Zoom, Jio, etc. I deployed these apps to teach the kids over video conferences. Then we came up with WhatsApp groups for respective classes and shared study material with the students. We created PDFs of handwritten notes by clicking photographs of the same to continue their preparation. This is how we’ve tackled our problems and still are upgrading our processes.

Mr Chauhan, please shed some light on how your competitors are doing?

Chandan: We belong to a community that is facing common challenges. Others are also going through what I am. They were also confused about how to teach and how to upgrade the teachers. We do have a team of well-trained teachers but up-gradation is an ongoing process. So, my competitors were also struggling to get more enrolments, to upgrade their teachers and to provide better education. I’ve seen a positive impact of the measurements taken by me on my students.

That’s good to hear. How are your students faring at present?

Chandan: Students were doubtful about the syllabus. 30% of the syllabus has been reduced as per government notification. Now they’re assured that 70% of the syllabus needs to be prepared. Pre-boards just like those conducted in schools will be arranged by us to measure their growth. Growth is although not at par with physical classes, still, they’re doing better at concepts. In May or June, students were in a state of panic as to how they will cope up, but they’ve already overcome that. Otherwise, also boards keep students on their toes. Still, I can’t claim that the performance is up to the desired level. We’ll surely take more measures to up the performance.

Now that the students have adapted to the online mode, what do you have to say about the results of the students?

Chandan: Personally I’ve been giving exceptional results for the past five years through the physical mode of teaching. At least 5 to 10 students in my classes are such who score 100% in maths. All my previous years’ records are updated on my online pages. Many students cross 90% but these are the few who achieve 100/100. I’d say lockdown will definitely impact the results because the 30% syllabus that has been scrapped off can’t be made an excuse in an entrance exam or in future situations. A student can’t use Covid year as an excuse for skipping some part of the syllabus. It’s important to cover the complete syllabus for overall development. So, results won’t be as good as in previous years.

Students are very stressed and the government in a bid to reduce that stress has proposed to pass the students even if they’re failing in Maths, Science or Social studies by adding the numbers from skills. It might be construed negatively by a student given that they won’t be failed.

We’ll get to see that with the results of upcoming exams only. What efforts did you make to improve the enrolment in your institute?

Chandan: I deployed several creative ways for that. We decided to switch to online platforms as soon as the lockdown started; came up with a video of the institute and circulated it through my ex-students. Most of the students weren’t aware that I’d be taking online classes ever because my institute has always operated offline. Then I started making PDFs of my lectures to be shared in groups. I specifically asked my students to share the lecture PDFs with their friends from school who are not enrolled online. On one hand, it served their needs and on the other, it also served as a reference for my online classes. Besides, I circulated videos of my live classes on youtube and other mediums. A lot of students could be reached with youtube and if somebody wanted to enrol they could contact me.

How is your institute doing now and what plans have you envisaged for growing your institute in the coming months?

Chandan: The situation is normal now and we’re continuing in the online mode. I won’t call it very good though. From the future perspective, we’re awaiting the government notification. In fact, schools have been opened for classes 9th to 12th, so we’re hoping for a circular announcing the opening of coaching institutes very soon. I’m busy strategizing enrollment for the time when we can resume physical classes. See, the pandemic isn’t over yet so even if we’re allowed to open institutes for students, we can’t take the liberty of bringing in all the students at once. Social distancing will have to be in place, sanitisation will be taken care of throughout the institute and the focus will be on remedial teaching for the students who are struggling with their studies. If we’re fortunate enough to restart offline classes then these are a few steps that we’ll take while going ahead.

Since you mentioned that you’re awaiting government guidelines to resume offline classes, so what would be any three things that you need help with?

Chandan: To start with as I said I’m looking up to the government for its notification to resume physical classes. That would be a very big help for me. We’ve adopted the online system alright but not quite satisfied with the resulting potential. Then I’d like to address the students- We, the teachers, are working very hard for the students and we expect support from our students to upgrade ourselves in the coming times. If students can help us by sharing or liking our pages and channels then we can connect with a lot of other people. As of now, I’m looking for support in these two areas.

About the Guest

Chandan Chauhan is a Professionally Trained Teacher. He started the Career Cafe Institute in 2013. Chandan had started his organisation with a vision to train and develop his students by imparting high-quality education with a stronghold on communicative English through individual attention and overall personality development.

https://www.facebook.com/careercafeinstitute0/

The UN-registered nonprofit social initiative that helps small businesses and self-employed professionals to overcome the challenges of the pandemic.