Online education in India is taking a toll on students, teachers, and parents too

BCCL

  • The forced closure of thousands of schools across India and the subsequent shift to online education is affecting the mental health of children.
  • And that’s not the only issue that’s worrying. A large proportion of children do not even have access to online education.
  • In India, only 24% of households possess smartphones, while 11.5% of households have a computer with an Internet connection.
When schools were first shut temporarily in March as a precautionary step against COVID-19 spread, Navya — a class 9th student from Rajasthan — and many others like her were happy about not going to school, doing homework. For them, the pandemic had advanced their summer holiday, and they were excited about the prospects of extended leave.

But this small bubble of happiness burst soon enough, once the nationwide lockdown got extended, and it became a reality that going back to schools won’t be possible anytime soon.

This forced closure of thousands of schools across India and the subsequent shift to online education is impacting children’s mental health.
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“For teachers, the first challenge is to maintain the unwavering attention of a 7 to a 9-year old child on the screen. This is exacerbated by the fact that online classes are a new learning method, implemented in the first term of the academic year. Another challenge is to ensure participation from all students and keep them 'actively' engaged for the entire duration of the virtual class, " said Sudeshna Chatterjee, Director Principal, EuroSchool Airoli.

The pitfalls of virtual classes: Lack of focus, excessive screen time

In house online studies going on in Bhandup in MumbaiBCCI

Parents whose children can access online lessons are not pleased with this experience either. The massive increase in screen time is of great concern for parents. It includes not just the time they spend attending virtual school sessions, but also the time spent on digital homework as well. Moreover, since there are no physical activities that they can engage in, most of the kids remain glued to the screen all day long for playing video games or watching cartoon shows.
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“Concentration is a big trouble for young children. Adding to that, most children feel ignored as they feel cut off from a teacher. Teachers, too are, struggling to engage with the children and see them all at once. So there is the issue of teaching becoming a one-sided affair. As homework shifts online, increased screen time is another unwanted side effect,” the mother of a 4-year old child told Business Insider India.

The Indian government recently capped the duration and the number of sessions in a day for students — allowing only 30 minutes of online class for pre-primary students, and two online sessions of up to 45 minutes each from standard one to eight.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy

Batul Munim

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Students are complaining about the fatigue and exhaustion of attending these virtual classes. It does not help that the coronavirus induced lockdown and other restrictions imposed by government authorities have curbed the extra-curricular activities that the kids would usually indulge.

Being cooped up inside their homes for long periods, and lack of physical activities or inability to play with their friends is taking a toll on mental and physical health. Students are complaining about frequent headaches, eye-related problems, and back pain now more than ever.

“The new way of learning is difficult to adapt for the kids, my 10-year-old does things on his own, like logging in and out of the class but he keeps complaining it is not like school, and he misses his friends and physical activity. At times, I do catch him with the camera off, or browsing something else,” Batul Munim, the mother of two boys (ages 6 and 10), told Business Insider India.

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Munim says his son has had several meltdowns since May-end once the ‘original vacation’ period got over. “Every other sentence would start with: Mom, if we are in school, then this would happen.” She further adds that online lessons have been more challenging for her six-year-old son, who wants to escape after every class. “He is sleepy, hungry, and disinterested, or sometimes it is plain boredom,” she added.

“The physical play that students would have when they are in an outdoor system; that thing is not there in a flat system. It is definitely affecting health, and no social interaction is adding more to this. When students go to school, they have recess or lunch breaks to meet people and chat. But in an online class, students cannot chat,” Dr. Geeta Dalal, a ‎Psychologist, Special Educator & Dyslexia Therapist, told Business Insider India.

Dalal adds that the current situation is tough because not everyone can sit and study alone, “Man is a social animal, and this COVID-19 (lockdown) has put people in the shell. All the measures that are being taken are valid. But it is also understandable that the frustration levels are high, and this situation is something where parents cannot do anything about it. Everything has become virtual now - from school to play dates.” She believes that this is the only option both children and parents have right now.

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Thus, it becomes difficult to ensure progress of the child. Regular test, which use to help determine student's growth, are also not adding much value.

According to French Professor Jyoti Chhabria, "progressive tests cannot rule out cheating by some students. Hence, the scores may not give the true picture of a student's potential," Chhabria told Business Insider India.

The bane of connectivity issues
A student preparing for medical examination online. BCCL

Poor connectivity and lack of online infrastructure bring along a whole new set of problems.

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“I am a parent of a 4-year kid, and my daughter has two classes in a day. The first one is around noon and another one at 5 pm. I find that sometimes the teacher is waking up half of the kids, sometimes the kids are unmuting themselves (and telling the teachers - you are not visible). More than the teachers, parents are struggling to make their kids sit in the class. I really do not feel that these (online) classes are suitable for primary students,” Niti Garg, a working professional, and a mother told Business Insider.

But this is not the only problem that is worrying. In India, a large proportion of children do not even have access to online education.

24 million children may drop off school due to COVID-19: UN
Jaikishan Patel/Unsplash
About 24 million children (primary students) in India may not go back to school next year because of economic fallout. The actual number of students dropping out of school may be much higher, a recent UN study said.

In India, only 24% of households possess smartphones, while 11.5% of households have a computer with an Internet connection.
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Separately, about 90 lakh students — enrolled in government colleges in India — do not have access to online education primarily because of the unavailability of electricity, smartphones, laptops, and the internet. Experts believe the current online school system may only increase the digital divide.

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