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In the midst of a global pandemic, one can’t help wondering, is it really necessary for primary school kids to have long hours of live online school?
Some schools started online school sessions way back in April and have been doing them for a while. Others just started with them, or will be starting in a few days. While schools are trying to adapt to difficult times, they need to consider more than just the syllabus.
In the midst of a global pandemic, one can’t help wondering, is it really necessary for primary school kids to have long hours of live online school? It just reminds me Ron Weasley’s words, ‘She (the school, here) needs to sort out her priorities!’
As schools try to switch to online teaching, the syllabus and teaching methods in many cases remain essentially the same. And how does that work?
Primary students typically have six to seven hours of school everyday. So that is how long they have to sit still in front of a laptop if the regular timetable is followed. Remember, that first grade kids are only five or six years old.
What happened to discouraging screen time?
For years we have been discouraging them from using screens citing various health problems it can lead to. But now, suddenly, they have to sit still for hours in front of screens like adults in a business meeting.
Parents are forced into hypocrisy as they are cornered into insisting on hours of unhealthy screen time since it is for school. What is the message we are sending? That completing some arbitrary syllabus is more important for a six year old than health in the middle of a pandemic? Have we lost all perspective?
While several schools have reduced the timings considerably (kudos to them for being thoughtful), some have compromised by reducing the per day screen time and making Saturday a working day. But is that enough? Is this a business they are running, where they need to make up extra hours on Saturday? Shouldn’t the well-being of the kids take precedence?
When parents object, they say there is nothing wrong with active screen time, as opposed to the ‘passive’ screen time spent playing video games or watching TV.
But what is active about staring miserably at the screen while the teacher has kept the kid on mute to prevent disturbance?
Six-year-olds desperately repeat themselves getting louder with every attempt, trying to ask a question, forgetting that they are on mute. They look so miserable and helpless, their teacher is ignores them. Am I blaming the teacher? Of course not! The poor teacher is in an impossible situation, where she has to teach tots using an impossible medium.
What I don’t understand is the obsession schools have with completing an arbitrary syllabus for children, as the world around them falls apart.
Instead of helping them cope with the crisis, schools are adding to their woes. Not only are they missing their friends, forbidden from going to parks, but now they are reprimanded for fidgeting with the gadgets being tantalisingly placed right in front of them.
Tiny hands try to handle an iPad, and if they touch the screen a scribble appears across the shared whiteboard. The teacher calls them out for it.
Zoom has so many features. The little ones are dying to explore them all. So the teacher spends the whole lecture saying, ‘don’t unmute yourself,’ ‘don’t scribble on the shared screen,’ ‘don’t touch the computer,’ ‘sit straight, look at the screen,’ ‘Okay now unmute yourself and answer the question.’
I told my daughter to look out of the window every fifteen minutes or so to rest her eyes, because they had started hurting. Her teacher criticised her for not paying attention. Again, not the teacher’s fault. She is under tremendous stress to manage little ones, when she can barely communicate with them in any meaningful way.
Classes have become boring. Online education makes discussion difficult, because if the students are not muted, there is a cacophony of background noises.
And if the teacher is using a smart phone, she cannot see most of the students on the screen to successfully engage them in the discussion. Teachers are used to efficiently using the board. So they find the shared white board to be a clumsy tool. And end up resorting to playing YouTube videos. Every one is frustrated, and very little learning is happening, but a lot of time is being wasted.
So you are thinking, come on, look on the bright side. Parents can at least work from home, or do their chores, while the kids are busy with school. Not true, especially for parents of four to eight year old kids.
Sometimes the meeting links or passwords don’t work, and parents waste a lot of time just trying to log the kids in. Add to that, some schools issue threats, that if students miss even one class they will be marked absent for the day. So parents scramble to figure out broken links by frantically messaging on the parent WhatsApp group.
For families with two or more kids, each kid has to be given a separate device and room so they don’t intrude on each other’s meetings. Alternatively kids need to be given headsets and get entangled with the wires. Wireless headsets are perhaps an option that would work, but then every family has to invest in several of them.
Little kids don’t respond properly to the technical instructions like mute yourself, unmute yourself etc, so parents have to supervise. Some microphones are sensitive and pick up ambient noise. So the teacher mutes the kid, and they feel left out or discriminated against.
Often there are network issues and kids get logged out and miss a significant portion of the class. Now, the parents need to drop everything and come to their aid right away. Screen time is so tiring, neither parents nor kids have any energy left for either bonding or meaningful study at the end of it all!
It is a harrowing experience for teachers trying to manage a class through video feed of the students.
So what is this experience all about? What exactly are schools trying to achieve? Are they succeeding? Is sticking to the syllabus and completing it of such earth shattering importance for little ones?
School administrations and management need to introspect and evaluate their methods. They need to figure out a way to have just a few hours of school, in a manner that keeps the kids productively engaged.
Given the progression of the pandemic, online school is here to stay. We have to live with it. So it is necessary to see what is working, what isn’t, and then re-evaluate and adapt.
Now, more than ever, educational institutions need to practice what they preach: empathy, compassion and flexibility to accommodate kids, parents, and teachers, to help them through trying times.
A version of this was earlier published here.
Picture credits: Pexels
Kanika G, a physicist by training and a mother of 2 girls, started writing to
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