By Prof Mathew C Ninan
Jul 7: According to UNESCO, the education of nearly 1.6 billion pupils in 190 countries has been disrupted by the pandemic Covid -19. For how long will it be is anybody’s guess. This, indeed, is a pathetic situation.
‘No school’ is an unfortunate, but inevitable aftermath of the present crisis. We have no choice but to keep children safe in their homes. But, shouldn’t we do something about their learning? How long will they spend their time at home, cut off from their school, friends, teachers and their little world outside home? Won’t this affect their impressionable minds adversely? For all of these reasons, we need to take a thoughtful look at what alternatives we can provide them.
The media report that 90% of children want a ‘zero year’ is a very cynical response to the crisis. There are certain serious matters to be decided by parents and adults, not children. Asking children if they want school or not itself is ridiculous. Making it a sensational headline is worse.
School is a place where children learn to live in an organized society. School provides a structure and routine which are very important for their mental and physical growth. Therefore we need to evolve a new scheme of things, in which children spend their time in a structured and organized manner, and within a routine of meaningful activities. This is what we must provide children at this time when schools are closed indefinitely. We should ensure that the learning continuum of children is not disrupted during this long period.
Research studies that have investigated the effects of school closures in the past have shown how even relatively brief periods of time out of education can disrupt and distort children’s learning rhythm.*
So our main aim at this point must be to ensure that children continue to access learning, even if it is through remote means. Remote learning (online classes – live or recorded) will help prevent their setback, to a considerable extent.
This is a challenging time for parents. With no school for months on end, they have to wage several battles at once. Financial crunch, loss of business or jobs, pay cuts, protocol restrictions etc have already been crushing them down. Added to all of this is the indefinite school closure and ‘no learning’ for children. Parents know that a long period of ‘no learning’ will have far-reaching consequences.
Cessation of learning and children wasting time watching trivialities on the screen are getting on the nerves of parents. When children are confined home, with no access to their friends, and no outside activities, the obvious consequence would be frictions and frayed nerves. Parents are looking to schools and the decision makers for alternatives to give them some solace.
Today’s children are digital natives whereas adults are digital migrants. Most children have had access to the screen in one form or the other right from a very young age. So online learning is not going to hurt them as long as the screen time is limited to a reasonable amount appropriate to the child’s age. There are different resources that provide guidance on screen time and safe practices appropriate to the age of the child. For instance small children can be given brief spells of lessons on attractive and interesting formats on each day. Teachers will devise interesting modules because they know their students. Gradually we will find the children showing keen interest in learning.
Teachers are well geared up to meet the demands of online teaching. They have been spending sleepless nights to prepare their lessons. They put in their best efforts to present their lessons. In fact these online classes have the advantage of saving time. What a teacher normally takes 2-3 sessions to complete can be covered in a single session. The preparations are thorough and better researched.
Every school is trying to make their lessons more attractive and engaging. Teachers have an opportunity to use their creativity and imagination to produce high quality online lessons. Another silver lining in the cloud!
Teachers know that they will be watched in action, and are subject to the scrutiny of parents and others. Parents, however, need to be considerate in this matter, as this new mode of teaching is an entirely new experience for the teachers. We can assume that teachers will put their best foot forward. So can parents.
Children will miss out on crucial social interactions in school, and the learning from it. But this season offers them an alternative training ground. They will need to adapt, be resilient and persevere in their learning without peer pressure and the rigorous discipline of an academic environment. This will be good for them in the long run.
This is also a great opportunity for children to explore cooking, baking, craft, doing science experiments, growing seasonal vegetables etc. Daily exercise in the form of walks, runs, bicycle rides outdoors are vital, but if going outside is not an option, aerobic exercises, yoga and dance sessions can be initiated by the PE, SUPW and Dance teachers. Parents will also enjoy getting involved in many of these activities. Children can be encouraged to share their adventures with their teachers, and display their pictures, drawings, stories, poems etc. Higher classes can have assignments related to their lessons.
Teachers’ presence on the screen itself has a therapeutic value. Children feel motivated to learn when they come face to face with their teachers, albeit virtually. Ultimately, let these efforts yield some meaningful learning, which is all what matters at this juncture.
Prof Mathew C Ninan is Director, Little Rock Institute for Educational Leadership, Udupi.
*Marcotte D E, Hemelt -S W (2007) Unscheduled School Closings and Student performance. Education Finance and Policy. Volume 3 | Issue 3 | Summer 2008 p.316-338