The government recently released a circular regarding physical reopening of schools and the start of the academic year. One of the points that jolted all schools was the government directive not to hold online education for preschool to grade 2. It came as a jolt to most schools as many start their academic year in April and had already started their online platforms and had completed one month of the academic year. We understand that the government has taken this stand keeping in mind the physical and mental health of children, but there should be more clarity on this as WHO and American Academy of Paediatricians say that one hour of video chats are ok for children above the age of 3 years. So we feel that instead of a blanket ban that is going to bring its own issues, it would have been better if guidelines had been defined by the government regarding online education for preschool to grade 2.
Some schools have filed a PIL, some have started protests and some have just continued the online education! Some parents are in support of online education as their child’s school was conducting age appropriate sessions that were benefitting the child. Other parents are happy with the ban as their child’s school was either not doing anything, or was doing too much and pressurising the child and the family.
How will this impact children is the question we should be asking ourselves here. The government circular says that children should watch educational content on television and or radio. But is this content available in regional languages and in English for our anganwadi /government school children and private school children? Because this is the specific requirement that parents go for. If half hour/one hour of television viewing is not harmful then why not change the guidelines to allow half hour/one hour of online education? Brain research clearly states that one-way screen viewing is more harmful than an interactive screen viewing like a video or online chat with a teacher
The circular says Children of classes one and two should study at home till offline classes are started. So how do they study? Parents don’t have the time or ability to teach them so naturally private companies are now offering online content to children, and parents first enrolled free for these platforms and now these platforms are charging anywhere around 28000 and more. So are we saying that private companies can enrol children for online education but schools cannot? Who is more qualified here to give online education to children? We urge the government to ban all kinds of online learning platforms for children in preschool to grade 2 as it is not fair that the private players are driving out quality schools from educating children already enrolled with them.
It’s a vicious cycle- parents will not pay fees till there are no online classes, schools cannot have online classes so no fees- no fees so teacher salaries cannot be paid- so teachers are forced to take ‘online tuitions’! So whichever way one looks at it, online is still on, it is just banned for schools!
If you read the circular there is a point 7, it says- online education should be planned so that students education is not disrupted in case a child is covid positive or the school has to be shut down again- it means that online and offline will be required this year, so then would it not make more sense to ensure that children settle into this new normal from the beginning of the year?
If we study what schools around the globe are doing, all of them have an online and offline model or as called asynchronous and synchronous model. So that children adjust faster to the new type of schooling and there is no break in their learning. With online banned for preschool to grade 2 what will happen to their learning in this interim period? It will lead to learning lags and how will they cope once school is opened? It will put huge amount of pressure on the children to learn all the content meant for the year in a few months. By doing this we are not only increasing the pressure of learning on children but also leading to weak foundations of learning. Some people also say that maybe there will be children should just skip a year. Physically it is possible to skip a year but cognitively it means making the child’s brain learn something without teaching the foundation of the same. We are hurtling our education system into a huge crisis and the ones to be the most affected by it will be our children.
(The author is President Early Childhood Association and Association of Primary Education and Research. With over 34 years in education, she has compiled a comparative study of the ECE curriculum and policies of 39 countries, and recently compiled ECA Post-Covid School Reopening Guidelines and ECA Blended Learning Manual.)