My Mother, a School Teacher, and Her Struggles With Technology

Nobody knows what the future of schooling looks like. But as COVID-19 cases continue to rise at an alarming rate, one thing is certain – the possibility of going back to school in the near future is close to none.

As my siblings and I adjust to this new normal, my mother, a school teacher, faces her own set of troubles. The switch from a traditional classroom to Zoom has been the most anxiety-inducing challenge I have seen my mother face over the years. She’s had a smart phone for a couple of years, but in a middle class family of six – which prioritised education over luxuries – my mother was the last to get one.

With the recent shift to classes on Zoom, MS Teams and Google Meet, my mother feels miserable about her incompetence when it comes to dealing with technology.

I believe a lot of this has to do with the fact that our parents, like most of us, dread asking for help. The urge to be self-sufficient and the need to feel validated reaches an all-time high in many households. Every few days, I sense her unobtrusively making her way towards me to ask, “Meeting invite kaise bhejte hai? (How do you send an invite for a meeting?)”

I then show her how to do it.

Also read: Three Women and Notes From a Lockdown

“Screen share kaise karte hai? (How do you share a screen?),” she often asks, when no one’s around. I would be lying if I said I didn’t know why she waits for everyone to leave to ask me that question.

Over the years, middle-class working parents have tried to amass their social capital through their kids – by sacrificing their own dreams, ambitions and mostly their time, working full hours and neglecting the emotional needs of their kids. While doing so, as they forget to indulge themselves, they also create a gap that reduces communication to need-based access.

So when my mother comes to me for tech-related help, her anxieties are further compounded by years of emotional resistance. I often feel her apologetic presence as she’s about to ask me something. “Sorry,” she muffles, if she finds me working on my laptop.

Her fears are not just to do with getting around technology; they’re much greater than that. With a partner on the brink of retirement and constant news about layoffs – she doubts her own abilities despite 20 years of service at a private school. Between earning to make ends meet, cooking for a family of six almost three times a day, managing a house without domestic-help and making sure familial relationships stay intact – a pandemic seems to have been an irreversible breaking point.

Did we fail to acknowledge how this switch, necessary as it may be, would affect many teachers to such an extent, forcing them to deal with rising levels of anxiety and a whole host of other problems?

As my mother numbs her pain each morning with painkillers and passive acceptance, I think about the older generation and other teachers like her who have been thrown into a world that frightens, intimidates and discourages them.

Maryam Ahmad is a freelance cultural writer based in Karachi, Pakistan. She writes about art, culture, colour and gender.

Featured image credit: Flickr