The COVID-19 pandemic has halted almost all the human activities for a while till now and one of the most affected columns is education. This outbreak has disrupted the academic year, canceled classes and examinations all across the country. To ensure that students do not miss out on their studies, schools and educational institutions moved the classes online, forcing students to attend the lectures through their gadgets. However, this way of learning has sparked a debate on whether an increased amount of screen time helps the students learn or retard their progress. Online learning may be a new experience to few but carries its pros and cons. The pronounces like reopening of schools, finding medication to curb the virus, getting rid of the virus completely have a void answer back. To hook the process of learning in children, online classes are the only means to sustain. To the educators who are acclimatized to classroom teaching, online teaching is a challenge to them. They are attuning themselves to new software, applications, and leaning to habituate towards technological ways to teach their students. Whatever happenings are seen in the education domain now are completely taking stance on the technology platform but which type of learning benefits the student more is a major point of discussion. Let’s get into deliberation by popping a few questions that strike in the way.
The screen time for students has increased because of online classes. Is it?
Online learning is probably the most helpful means of learning to students in the current situation but may not completely agree that the same has increased the screen time. As we see, children of this generation are more into the virtual world than reality by sticking to the screens in the form of television, mobile, or computer. They have been addicted to the screens even before COVID-19 began and the usage would be around eight to nine hours a day. So, the debate cannot be one-sided cornering that the effects are caused only due to online learning. Moreover, when it comes to online lessons, most schools are not depending only on screens but they are giving students a blended approach by including various activities like conducting yoga sessions, asking them to paint or craft, experiment something in the kitchen or make a salad. So, there is a bit of screen time interspersed with hands-on activities. Childhood is the crucial time of a child’s brain development where they learn something new every day. So, even a single day cannot be afforded a miss for children to receive the right kind of simulation, which only teachers can provide as they are trained to offer age-appropriate education.
Looking at the screens for longer duration can be harmful and as all the schools have shifted to online instruction, it does imply. This doesn’t seem to be a healthy way of learning but turned up to be the sole option to opt. Acquaintance to screen for long hours not only impacts health but also seems isolating and lonely for a child without their peers around them. Parents would be busy around their work and hence children may not get the right kind of supervision as in classroom learning. Also, the capability to interact and communicate can be lost in time if the trend of learning online is in a continuum. All these facts impact the process of learning. Hence, appropriate measures are to be taken regarding online learning as the future is mostly in its scope.
What guidelines are to be inclusive of online learning?
Online learning requires the use of technology and technology gadgets. Many children, especially those attending government schools, are being deprived of education during this pandemic as they have no access to online facilities. Though some families may have access to digital technology, there may not be enough devices for each family member’s personal use. There may be parents working from home who require gadgets and in this case, each household needs to have their gadget to do with their work which is certainly impossible to a large section of the population.
Multiple issues are surrounding online learning. A sudden rush to switch to classes happened overnight. Hence, some courts have asked the government to come up with guidelines on online instructions. They require guidelines in the lines of what online classes entail, what it means, how the process is going to happen, and what will be the impact through this way of learning. The Early Childhood Association has prepared detailed guidelines to be followed in online learning and mentioned that schools must be opened only if they can follow these guidelines.
Though many countries have started re-opening schools, it may not be possible in India to do so due to reported increase in the number of COVID-19 cases mostly in metro cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, and Hyderabad.
What will be the mode of education post-COVID-19? Will online lessons continue? What can be the learning level of students?
A large section of the population is unable to access technology which is a huge concern at the moment. Some children belonging to migrant families have moved far away from their schools. There is no guarantee that these families would return to cities and so is the situation of students to come back to schools. Teachers are trying to develop better online modules based on activities but not many are benefitting from it. The problem is with our education policy, which is always neglected for a marginalized child. All our policies tend to have a focus on those who already have access to certain facilities rather than the poor and marginalized and this is why we still have many children who aren’t in school yet.
If we stop online education, the children who have access to technology will lose out. So, stopping online classes may not be a solution. Instead, we need to work on providing technology access to those disadvantaged children by providing smartphones, electronic tablets, and teach them the right way to make use of technology.
Education is not only about sharing information or content that is learnable to students via screens. It is about a lot more and most of it takes place through social interactions in school with peers and teachers which is possible only through classroom learning. So the long run of online learning can impact the cognitive and developmental abilities of a child. It is high time that we started talking about how the schools can be made a safe space again for children to come back rather than making a complete switch to online learning.
What are the alternatives to ensure that students don’t fall back academically due to this or any other outbreak that might happen in the future?
Many policies fault lines during this pandemic and most of them are in the health and education sectors. Our health sector isn’t geared up to face this pandemic and even within the education sector, it is clear that we haven’t invested any in a way that it can take care of a situation like this. We have to think on these lines and improve our education system in such a way that we do not need to close schools even during the situations of this kind in the future. We need to ensure that there is no shortage of teachers and also make it possible for students to have a safe environment even during a pandemic. It is not only about online instruction, but we also need to prepare action plans to deal with students who lost out on education due to his pandemic. The majority of students who were unable to access technology in this pandemic may become drop-outs and this goes against their fundamental right to education.
From the guidelines, post-COVID-19, it is suggested to open schools or any educational institutes in a staggered manner. Social distancing must be strictly followed by teachers and students. Priority is to be given to opening schools for marginalized and migrant children, as they might not have access to technology in this pandemic time.
The government must take sufficient measures and create policies in a way to confront any such future outbreaks and retain stability in a short while.