A voicemail clicks on.

Teacher: Hello, hello Mrs. Bankole, please pick up your call this is one of your teachers. I am calling to beg your assistance with my salary or even some stipend as I am in dire need to feed my family or else, I have to quit and find a new job.

Voice message: Hello. Please stay strong. Do not give up hope. This pandemic shall pass.

Voice message (Strength): This is your strength, “I will fill you up. Do not give up.

Voice message (Parent): Please stay strong. We need you to teach the children.

Voice message: I am education, slowly fading away with the pandemic when you quit.

Voicemail clicks on: This is Mrs. Bankole. Hang in there, dear. We can work something out to get through these times. You are important. You are needed.

The above performance by the international Playback Theatre Network actors summarises part of the global struggles of teachers for the survival and continuation of education in a COVID-19 era. The improvised drama encapsulates the challenges of private schools in Nigeria and learning institutes across the globe.

Proprietress of Bankys Schools, Nigeria, Mrs. Olusola Bankole, said the financial impacts of the pandemic rendered private schools as hers unable to pay teachers’ salaries since April 2020. Instead the school pays teachers stipends to encourage attendance of review meetings since the national lockdown. The President of the Nigerian Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS) added she had further received reports of schools on the verge of folding up.

In India, with the country still on lockdown and crowd amassing activities still banned, teacher, Ajay Preetham, is hopeful his students will return when things normalize; and Chetna Rangbhumi of A Happy Playground, a learning institute located in a less privileged community in the country, noted the halt of its live, physical theatric activities, and registered zero fees payment by parents, which has thus affected the teachers. Meantime, Rupal Sinha whose school successfully migrated its classes online, found parents complaining of extensive extra classes since the lockdown. She has since lost her privacy, as a result of being available at all times for her pupils and parents; while Almas K. struggles with the challenge of converting face-to-face teaching module to a virtual learning experience.

Thousands of miles away from Asia, in South Africa, a volunteer teacher in a small private school, Sue Hall, was recently recalled to school as a substitute teacher. She is excited at the opportunity but panicked and uncertain about returning to class. “I don’t want to teach in masks. I am also worried about implementation and adherence to safety protocol.

In Nigeria, public school volunteer, is cut off completely from her pupils, who are currently cut off from all educational activities both physical and virtual.

Teachers have found themselves either floundering for balance or walking a tightrope they must adjust to or be overwhelmed. As the stories rolled in, the actors: Roberta L (Italy), Peggy K. (Malaysia), Ann Duchateau (Belgium), Ranji David (India), Heidi Winter Vogel (US) and flutist, Jordan P. (US) work fast, together and worlds apart ‘online’ to encapsulate in short improvised dramas the teachers’ emotions and experiences. That, in addition to the shared sense of understanding and belonging from the varied narrations and the 45-image painting exhibition creates calm and a communality among the teachers.

“It felt so good to share (my story). I will share more,” Almas K. Another teacher stressed the importance of recognizing sacrifices being made by health workers and teachers’ dedication to education and the hope for a “pandemic-free world.”

“Thanks to the actors, the way you have showed empathy helped their audience calm down. The actors were amazingly able to replicate everyone’s stories,” say Tosin Akinwade.

Nigeria’s Universal Basic Education Board (UBEB) Hajiya Sidikat Shomope, assures participants that the board “shall ensure regular monitoring of schools to ensure quality teaching and learning for our learners.”

It wasn’t all negative though. In the midst of the pandemic, teachers have found large resource of information on the internet, and global connections.

“It has opened us up to the world, to international platforms to share our work and experiences. I am grateful for that. I have also been able to learn more about the private lives of my pupils, as they share more about themselves, and show me their siblings and pets.”

“It’s (Playback for Teachers Performance) given us a feeling of communality, of being together in the struggle for education against the COVID-19 pandemic,” concluded Almas.

Co-hosted by Playback Theatre Network Nigeria’s, Damilola Abdullahi-Apotieri and Playback Theatre, India’s Ranji David, the Playback for Teachers Performance, seeks to provide therapeutic solution to teachers across the global who are currently struggling with the many challenges thrust their way by the pandemic through the short and improvised dramatization of their experiences.


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