CHENNAI: Last week the Karnataka state government announced that all kinds of virtual classes would be stopped for students from pre-primary till class 5. Then came the announcement that pre-recorded sessions were to be stopped too. Then the rumour that there would be no classes for students till class 7.
That was later clarified as being under consideration. One of the reasons cited for this barrage of decisions was the expert opinion on limiting children’s exposure to screen time.
I’ll be honest, online school eases my mind tremendously as a parent. As much as I would like to have the time to bake, paint and grow a kitchen garden with my kids during the pandemic, I don’t. I am working from 9-5, five days a week in roles I consider myself lucky to still have, considering job cuts across sectors. Knowing that my children are not rapidly depleting their brain cells watching Moosecraft and DanTDM, and are learning something — ANYTHING — other than how to get more ‘emotes’ on Fortnight makes me feel relieved.
I can see how for some parents online schooling is stressful. The need to sit with younger children and monitor and help them is genuinely difficult. But parents must have a say in deciding what kind of online learning they want for their children, and how much of it they want. Also, with parents working from home and using desktops and laptops, finding additional digital devices for online learning is not simple. Nor is it something we can assume everyone can afford.However, one can assume that the learning slide all children will experience in the months to come is real. But this is not just about our children ‘falling behind’ or completing syllabus. The lack of social interaction with their peers, the inability to play and run with friends, all of these are issues which will compound and play Zout in different ways in the year ahead.
I am fully aware that I say this from a position of privilege and it’s a sentiment many parents and students don’t even have the luxury of having an opinion about. Which leads to the most urgent argument that we must address, which is — online classes will further the already gaping educational divide that exists. The story of a young girl in Kerala who committed suicide because she didn’t have a digital device at home to join online learning sessions is heartbreaking.
But then shouldn’t we be looking for a way to make online learning accessible? Can privileged schools, education non-profits, tech companies and social enterprises join hands with the government on finding ways to bridge this digital divide? Isn’t that the question we should be asking instead of waffling over how many hours of screen time our children should be having? (Which frankly is none of the Government’s business apart from issuing guidelines on the same.) Online school is not and cannot ever replace actual physical school. But with no vaccine in sight, the risk of repeated outbreaks of the virus in the months and even years ahead, and God only knows what else the future has in store, we must collectively re-imagine what ‘back to school’ looks like.
Menaka Raman @menakaraman
The writer’s philosophy is: if there’s no blood, don’t call me