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Friday, December 9, 2022

Lockdown learning: Are we ready to teach young children online? 

Aanya, a pre-schooler, studying in a reputed school in West Delhi, is all set for her classes. Unlike her seniors last year, she need not wear a uniform or pack her bag. She does not even get to be in her classroom, meet her friends, or share her lunch with them. 

Instead, all she has to do is to log into her virtual classroom; sit in front of her I-pad screen while her teacher starts the lesson. Ironically, this is how several pre-schoolers in private schools across the country embarked on their journey as students in school. The reason? The lockdown announced by the Government of Bharat to contain the spread of COVID-19. 

An unprecedented learning challenge

According to UNESCO, as on April 27, 2020, a staggering 10 million pre-primary children have been impacted since the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. To avoid a break in children’s learning, the Government of Delhi approved starting online classes from mid-April.

Since then, ‘virtual learning’ has become a buzzword in the education sector. Both public and private schools have moved to online delivery of lessons for students. This move is perhaps the only way to continue with the education of children. However, it certainly has presented educators and parents with unprecedented challenges.  It  also poses unique challenges for  young learners. 

Too much screen time

The altered situation demands children as young as three years to be in front of the screen for long durations. With little or no possibility to venture outdoors,  children  resort to the ‘idiot box’ (TV)  for entertainment. According to the data released by the TV viewing measurement agency BARC (Broadcast Audience Research Council) India, the lockdown period has seen a 33 percent increase in the children’s genre viewership. This, combined with an average of one to two hours spent on online classes each day, gives an idea about the spike in screen time for young children. 

Thus, the average screen time every day violates the guidelines provided by several international organisations such as the American Association of Paediatrics that suggest a maximum of one hour screen time for children in the age bracket of 2-5 years and consistent limits for children older than six years. 

The overall increase in screen time is a matter of concern for parents, doctors and educators as it is not developmentally appropriate for children. Over use of screen time strains the eyes, causes obesity and in extreme cases, changes the brain structure. 

Hence, schools and parents must strive to balance screen time by setting up a routine for children. Engaging the child in activities such as self-corrective puzzles, indoor exercises and reading can be alternatives to ensure that the child is creatively engaged and not glued to the screen at all times.

Hand-holding the parents

Parents  also find it challenging to provide continued technical  assistance  for their young children. This ranges from setting up the system, log in protocols, and helping children familiarise themselves with the sophisticated technological interface. 

Older children can be left on their own or with minimum help during their online classes. However, young children certainly require considerable support from their parents. Most  parents are employed and are currently  forced to Work From Home (WFH). Frequently, they are left without domestic help which adds to their burden of domestic chores and therefore poses another challenge.  

Building a partnership

Several studies have shown a positive impact on the student’s learning outcomes when parents and teachers are involved in the learning process. So, this phase must be taken as an opportunity by parents and schools to build partnerships to foster children’s learning. 

To start with, schools must understand that parents need hand-holding in terms of how to teach children in a play-way method. Hence, schools must organise periodic orientations for parents to introduce them to online resources and discuss the rationale behind upcoming lessons. They must also provide a supportive platform where parents can discuss concerns and issues of their children. Besides, both parents or other family members must collaborate  to provide support in the child’s  learning at home.

A culture of online ‘silence’

Possibly the most overlooked challenge is that of delivering the content online. Although classes have moved online, there is little change in the pedagogy.  Many teachers still use outdated  methods of teaching and testing. A ‘culture of silence’ is being fostered online by asking children to mute themselves during an online session.

The skewed student to teacher ratio during these classes makes it  even more difficult for teachers to focus on every student. In this context, the schools can  choose to  conduct classes in groups that allows teachers and students to interact. Schools should  train teachers  not only to be proficient with technology  but also  help them to avoid  passive methods of teaching online. Teachers  must also give up over dependence  on worksheets.  Instead,  they need to emphasise content creation and testing using Learning Management System (LMS).  

Harnessing technology and child-centric  learning models

The current situation has deprived children of the sensory  physical environment of the school. However, it has opened up a possibility where parents can take an active role in their children’s learning. This goes beyond helping the child to complete the homework. 

With speculation of the lockdown being extended for schools, the digital mode of learning  is likely to be  with us for a long time. Hence, it’s now time to tap the power of technology and devise culturally and developmentally appropriate learning models for children. 

(Featured Image source: Business Standard)

Author: Simranjeet Kaur is a Researcher at Ambedkar University, Delhi. She holds degrees in Journalism and Early Childhood Education. She has previously worked as an early educator and is interested in early literacy and learning.


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