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When Online Education Means An Added Burden For The Already Overworked Indian Mom

Posted: May 29, 2020

Is online education during the pandemic bringing more stress for Indian women, adding to their domestic and work duties? Where are the fathers?

Neha, a project manager at a leading SaaS company in Gurugram and a mother to two kids – a pre-primary and a middle schooler shares how frustrated and anxious she finds herself these days. If uncertainty due to the pandemic and working from home amidst no house help wasn’t enough, the starting of school from home has added another responsibility on her shoulders.

I have a daily scrum sharp at 8:30 in my office. My husband starts even earlier at around 8:00 am. By 8:30, we all take charge of our workstations. I am multitasking with my laptop at one hand trying to manage work along with supervising and attending the class with my pre-primary, who is on my phone. The moment I get busy in my work, he just tends to lose attention and run around. I am being expected to be a home teacher but am clueless on the assignments of my middle schooler. Most of the times I feel exhausted trying to catch up on multiple emails, notifications from the school and proctoring on his assignments. The curriculum is being rushed. There is so much to tend to that I feel losing it.”

Neha’s story or its variant in some form is playing in many households which have school-going children. Amidst the crippled support system and dissolution of boundaries between home, office and school, there is this new expectation from a parent to be a teacher. All this is stressing an already overworked demographic of working women.

Online education a knee jerk reaction?

The problems for non-working mothers aren’t anyway lesser. And women who are themselves educators, have been hard-pressed working tirelessly day in and out.

As per a recent survey conducted by Parents circle, 92% of parents felt that they will not want to send their children to school even if the lockdown ends. This could mean that while schools may decide to open in a staggered manner in the near future, online education is here to stay.

Also, owing to the large scale reverse migration, the domestic help may not be here anytime soon. In such a scenario, the stress for women in the house isn’t going anywhere.

Before it leads to emotional and mental burnout, everyone needs to pause; and perhaps re-pivot. The online system may have brought a structure to the routine of children and schools may have jumped to provide it for fees justification, but it has come with a cost.

Are the gains worth the stress? I reached out to educators, parents and experts.

Last month when schools moved to an online avatar, it was indeed a big step. The message was clear – either adapt or perish. However, as happens with anything drastic, the tremors of the change were felt by every stakeholder in the system.

And closer home, it was women who had to step up.

Women taking more of the burden

The pandemic might have brought men in the kitchen. They may have picked the broom and helped. However, the fact remains that in the context of Indian society, every small help by men is still seen as a “gracious” help.  When it comes to children and elderly care, the onus largely comes on the women.

And, there is a spectrum when it comes to children. Most of the age groups cannot be left unattended or unsupervised during these sessions due to various reasons. Women were already multitasking and then came this new responsibility with the nagging guilt of not being able to do it the way schools were expecting to proctor. The technicalities of learning tools and ensuring the availability of functional devices came as a daily challenge. Online education brought anxiety and frustration for women.

Shares Geetika, a full-time working mother to two kids from Gurugram about her predicament, “My work has increased manifold – the office expects me to be available at work 24/7. Now there is an added responsibility of online classes, managing kids’ schedules and assignments. Besides a lot of tools schools use may not be the most user friendly. I have been taking the lead since the beginning – only when my work is overwhelming that I ask my husband to take care of kids’ homework. But, seems almost subconsciously it became my primary responsibility “

Talking about the challenges in online learning especially for young children and its repercussions on mothers, Dr Himani Tyagi, Academic Head, DLF Public School, Ghaziabad, a parent coach, and passionate about brain development in children and how it impacts policy decisions says, “While Online learning for senior students works well, for younger children learning is more experiential. They need social context, boost from the teacher, the pat on the back, the teacher’s smile on that correct answer and even sharing lunch. There is a lack of attention span and self-regulation skills haven’t yet developed. There is a constant need for monitoring and control. That makes it hard for parents especially working mothers with deadlines at work and no assistance for housework.”

Mothers who’re homemakers are also feeling the burden. Shares Vanshita Kaushik, a Delhi based homemaker, mother to a teenager and an ex – educator, “Apart from the usual work, I solely have to see if my child is taking his classes seriously, that means half of my day is spent to ensure cybersecurity and monitor class participation. Online classes have increased my workload, I have to ensure he is taking his classes seriously.”

The implications of online education on women like these and the associated stress is real. Something which needs attention and thought.

Dr Meghna Singhal, a clinical psychologist, and a parenting educator from Bangalore ratifies this from her experience, “Most of the mothers who are talking to me are saying that it is too stressful and that they cannot handle this. Apart from managing housework and office work, now there is an additional burden of tending to the online classes and virtual school.

A completely different ballgame – Women as Educators

For school teaching space, where more than two-thirds are women, this meant putting their pandemic turmoil at the back end and embracing technology instantly and deliver. Something drastically new for the community which had always been with their students in the physical classrooms.

Annu, a teacher-storyteller from Pathways, Gurugram shares, “A new system had to be embraced at a short notice and without a lot of thought. We prepared for the sessions, daily incorporating constant feedback and methods from webinars to adopt and adapt. While fighting our struggles at home, we have to ensure recorded videos are of good quality, classrooms are engaging and we are continuously innovating. And add to it, that fear of being constantly watched and judged by the parent in an online classroom adds to anxieties. Think of the challenge for the teacher of looking at forty black screens and making the session interactive.

With an optimistic belief, she adds, “Maybe instead of a monologue and download as lectures, engaging with children in smaller groups, focussing on actual learning through discussions, projects, value education and life skills will be more helpful in the long run.”

Though there’s a silver lining

The systems may be in chaos as of now but educators are working to improvise the existing model, Dr Himani addsYoung brain primarily learns more from experiences. They cannot be having a variety of experiences just by sitting and gazing at the screen. Educators across the world are working on the new models of online education. Through all this experimentation, we now have an exposure to online tools to evaluate the efficacy of classes instantly, something which we couldn’t do the traditional way.

While there is a lot of stress, a few positives may have emerged with the online education mode.  A resilient and robust parallel system may have shaped up which could act as a fallback for future emergencies, pollution breaks and vacation extensions due to harsh climates.

Shares Sangitha Krishnamurthi, a mother to two senior school children, an educator, and Founder- The Teachers Collective, Bangalore:There is a gain. We need to see how anchored is learning. Something which is yet to be proven. It is good for kids who have difficulties as there are lower distractions. Teachers’ skills have been upped many times in last one month. Technology embracing will now become more nuanced and meaningful going ahead.”

Some very important questions to answer if we’re to reduce burden

These times are unprecedented. Social connect is almost zero, physical activity minimal, and emotional needs are high. We need to ensure that this stress doesn’t lead to burn out and turns into mental health issues.

Dr Meghna advises, “I would like to say to the mothers that it’s ok, even if your child loses out on one semester, nothing will happen. We need to see the long-term view. Children will perhaps end up picking up skills which usually doesn’t happen. As mothers as well as educators, let’s talk with our children on how we are dealing with problems at work, problems migrant workers and their children are facing. Let’s ask our children how they are feeling in these times. There is so much more which parents and educators can inadvertently give their children.”

I leave you here with a few questions. We all need to answer them. This only can help us holistically take care of the issues and the associated stress for everyone especially women.

  • Why can’t those who are policymakers decide to run the current academic session with a reduced curriculum and more of life skills?
  • Why have a strenuous routine of live sessions on curricular activities, especially for pre-primary, primary, and even middle school children? Why can’t school leaders get out of the mentality that they shall miss on something if not delivering the curriculum?
  • Why aren’t we putting a spotlight on teachers and acknowledging their hard work? They are doing a very difficult job and need all support and appreciation.
  • If as parents we seek structure, why can’t we agree to a more fluid one; through storytelling, discussions and projects, engaging in relevance to the current context? Are we trying to measure school fees against the number of classes being delivered?
  • Why can’t schools orient and engage with mothers to work on ways of reducing stress – graded online classes with more flexible timings staggered towards more convenient hours of the day?

I urge you to pause and think!


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Present - North India Lead - Education, Charter for Compassion, Co-Author - Escape Velocity, Writer & Social

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