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Insights into Editorial: Can online learning replace the school classroom?

online_learning

 

Introduction:

Online classes, no doubt, provide students to catch up on the classes lost due to the prolonged lockdown as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Attending classes online without a break is said to be causing problems like dry eye syndrome, burning sensation of eyes, and ear problems.

Educationists and doctors have their own reservations on online classes for primary classes. Doctors suggest use of laptops and external speakers, instead of earphones, to avoid eye and ear problems.

Prolonged use of earphones can result in noise-induced deafness. It can also cause tinnitus and the child may experience ringing sounds in the ear. Severe exposure may cause inability to hear certain frequencies. The problems depend on the duration and intensity of the sound.

Context:

The COVID-19 outbreak has disrupted the academic year, cancelled classes and examinations across the country.

To ensure that students do not miss out on their studies, schools moved classes online, forcing students to attend lectures via their gadgets.

However, this has also sparked a debate on whether the increased amount of screen time helps students learn or if it impedes their progress.

While Maharashtra has banned online classes from pre-primary to Class II, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh have extended the ban till Class V.

Reopening of Indian Schools:

Schools may be reopening abroad, but we cannot compare that to the situation in India. The schools that have opened in these countries are taking utmost precautions.

For instance, they are using tissue boxes for every class. Students can dump their used tissues in these boxes.

But the waste generated is so huge, and it will also require to be discarded safely.

Do Indian schools have that kind of infrastructure?

Also, it is difficult to make children sit in the classroom wearing masks, without touching it. Or for them not to touch other children and their masks.

Reporting an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases, is it viable to open schools?

  1. Education is not just about information or content delivered to students via screens. It is about a lot more. And most of it takes place through the social interactions in a school, with peers, with the teachers. Since online classes have begun, all that has been cut out.
  2. What’s worrying is the fact that the entire conversation has shifted to the use of technology.
  3. It is not just about computers and smartphones, even watching Doordarshan amounts to screen time.
  4. Nobody (in India) is really talking about turning schools into safe places, where education can resume.
  5. Social Interactions in schools would have other kinds of developmental and cognitive impact on the child and their development.
  6. It is high time that we started to talk about how the school actually can be made a space that is safe again, for children to come back to, rather than make a complete switch to online learning.

What will education look like once schools reopen post COVID-19?

There is a large section of the population that is unable to access technology and that’s a huge concern.

Children belonging to migrant families might have moved far away from their schools.

Government school teachers in Delhi were trying to reach some of the students whose mobile numbers they have, but they are not able to reach them, they have disappeared.

And these are kids who are going to be out of school soon. We don’t know whether their families will return to the cities and what’s going to happen to them.

Teachers are doing enough to develop better online modules, based on activities, but how many children are benefiting from it?

The problem is that our policy has always neglected the marginalised child. That is why we still have so many children who are not in school. All our policies tend to focus on those who already have access to certain facilities. We just forget the invisible the poor and the marginalised.

Alternatives that can ensure that students don’t fall back academically:

  1. During this pandemic, many of the policy fault lines across all sectors have come to the fore. Most of all in public health.
  2. The fact that our public health system is not geared towards such situations has become evident and obvious to everyone.
  3. Even within the education sector, it has become clear that we have not invested in our education system in a way that it can take care of a situation like this.
  4. Going forward, we have to start thinking on these lines:
  5. We need to improve our education system in such a way that we do not have to keep schools closed in such situations.
  6. We need to make it possible for the students to have a safe environment in schools even during a pandemic.
  7. We need to ensure that there is no shortage of teachers. Itis not just about online instruction, but also about preparing action plans to deal with students who have lost out on education because of the pandemic.
  8. A majority of the students who were unable to access technology in this pandemic may become drop-outs. This goes against their fundamental right to education.

What are the dangers of exposing children to screens at such a young age of kindergarten?

Online classes for young children may cause stress on their growing brains. In the actual classroom scenario, they get breaks, interact with friends and the surrounding atmosphere would be conducive to the learning process.

Sitting for long hours watching the mobile screen or laptop is not advisable for them.

Exposing children to screens from a young age is not right. It can hamper their overall development. The light emitted from the screen can strain children’s eyes and could lead to vision problems throughout their lives.

Watching a screen is also a passive activity that can make children lethargic and affect their thinking skills.

Often, parents expose children to screens right from a young age — using videos to get toddlers to eat without a fuss is a common parenting method. This can lead to several behavioural problems.

Schools should also keep this in mind while creating online content for younger kids. The lessons should be designed in such a way that the child only spends a few minutes looking at a screen. This can be done by integrating different activities into the lessons.

Way Forward:

Early Childhood Association have suggested that during pandemics, schools can be opened in a staggered manner, with 50% students attending every alternate day.

This will help avoid crowded classrooms and give schools time to clean up their premises.

Temperature checks of teachers, students and non-teaching staff should become mandatory.

Teachers should not give students any books to carry home. Social distancing should be followed strictly by teachers and students.

Second, it will be better to give priority to opening schools for marginalised and migrant children, as they might not have access to technology. We can create separate safe spaces for these children.