The travails of schooling online amid a pandemic

Recently, a photo of a child went viral, in which he is seen collapsed on his chair during a forty-minute online class has sparked a debate about the travails of schooling from home during the pandemic.

Parents of pre-schoolers and kindergarteners are especially a harried lot as their children are too young to operate technology or even sit still for more than a few minutes at a time.

However, is it fair to expect kids, young and not-so-young, to sit through Zoom classes for repeated thirty-five minutes?

Pre-schoolers on Zoom

Never before have so many children been out of school at the same time, disrupting learning and upending lives, but students as young as three years are glued to computers and smartphone screens as teachers take to online apps for lectures, tutorials and assessments.

Tara Sharma, actor, producer, TV show host and mother, shares her perspectives, admitting that home-schooling is new for kids, teachers and parents too. While some may adjust well to the Zoom calls etc., some may not, she says.

“My kids like the Zoom sessions, but I think one would need to allocate time for these sessions mindful of the fact that attention spans etc., may differ depending on kids’ ages,” says Tara, adding that as a family, they try to ensure enough breaks from the screen work and enough safe outdoor physical activity so the kids are not on a gadget all day.

Tara then shares with an interesting perspective that she got from the head of her kids’ junior school.

Wondering if parents worry too much about screen time too, Tara says, “The passive screen time, when a kid is sitting motionless and staring at videos etc. is the bad screen time documented in studies.

However, active interactive screen time such as attending classes on Zoom calls and interacting is actually not so bad. So while this situation exists, I think we can use balanced and discerning methods to school our kids.”

Holistic approach

Amidst even valid concerns, Director of Education at the Glendale Academy, Dr Anjum Babukhan, reminds parents the necessity to maintain a holistic view of things not only from a negative perspective of the screen-time but also an emotional well-being.

“Research has shown that gaps in education can make students forget what they learnt earlier,” says Dr Anjum. “Students will miss out doubly if they do not pay or receive proper time and attention, especially in these socially and emotionally challenging times.”

All good, but are schools still justified in charging the kind of tuition fees they do for conducting online classes now?

“School education is a long-term priority for a parent and a temporary break in physical contact should not impact the learning and teaching,” states Dr Anjum.

“Moreover, all schools have fixed expenses, and fees have to be collected to cover the costs and expenditures, including salaries and infrastructure cost, which amounts to almost 80% of all fee collection.

Keeping it simple and wise

However, Mir Khutubuddin Khan', Secretary, NASR Education Society, has a different opinion, given that both the children and parents feel emotionally and psychologically drained at this juncture.

For one, he is a strong advocate for simple and friendly introduction of online education to students.

Pointing out that an online class should take not more than twenty-five minutes, Mir Khutubuddin asserts that schools should also make enough prep before jumping into the online bandwagon.

“Conduct subject planning and teacher training sessions and emphasise on appropriate body language. Install clear audio for the sessions,” he adds.

Kiranjit Singh, principal of Glendale Academy, also shares with us that given the times and almost permanent nature of the changes the pandemic has set in, it is important to shift one’s thought process from an online teaching and learning to an online engagement mentality.

“Support happy and interesting schedules for the child,” says Kiranjit. “We have to reduce the curriculum drastically and focus on life skills, co-curriculum activities, physical education, arts, music and key concepts of language and logical skills. Assessments have to be situation-friendly and not written, adding to further burdens to the already prevalent stress among students and parents.”


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