Photo by Andy Falconer on Unsplash
Some schools started online school sessions way back in April and have been doing them for a while. Others just started with them, or will be starting in a few days. While schools are trying to adapt to difficult times, they need to consider more than just the syllabus.
In the midst of a global pandemic, one can’t help wondering, is it really necessary for primary school kids to have long hours of live online school?
In the words of Ron Weasely, She (the school) needs to sort out her priorities. As schools try to switch to online teaching, the syllabus and teaching methods in many cases remain essentially unchanged. But how does that work?
The Long Long Hours
Primary students typically have 6 to 7 hours of school everyday. So that is how long they have to sit still in front of a laptop if the regular timetable is followed. Remember, that first grade kids are only 5 to 6 years old.
What happened to discouraging screen time?
For years we have been discouraging them from using screens citing various health problems it can lead to, and now they suddenly have to sit still for hours in front of screens like adults at a business meeting. Suddenly, parents are forced into hypocrisy as they are cornered into insisting on hours of unhealthy screen time because it’s for school. What is the message we are sending? That completing some arbitrary syllabus is more important for a 6 year old than health in the middle of a pandemic? Have we lost all perspective?
While many schools have reduced the timings considerably (kudos to them for being thoughtful), some have compromised by reducing the per day screen time and making Saturday a working day. But is that enough? Is this a business they are running, that they need to make up extra hours on Saturday? Shouldn't the well-being of the kids take precedence?
When parents object, they say there is nothing wrong with active screen time, as opposed to apparently the passive screen time spent in playing video games or watching TV.
But what is active about staring miserably at the screen while the teacher has kept the kid on mute to prevent disturbance?
Don’t Fidget! Don’t Interrupt! Behave!
6 year old kids desperately repeat themselves getting louder with every attempt, trying to ask a question and forgetting that they are on mute. Then they look so miserable and helpless, that their teacher is ignores them. Am I blaming the teacher? Of course not! The poor teacher is in an impossible situation, where she has to teach tots using an impossible medium.
What I don’t understand is the obsession schools have with completing an arbitrary syllabus for little children, while the world around them is falling apart.
Instead of helping them cope with the crisis, the schools are adding to their woes. Not only are they missing their friends, being prevented from going to parks, but now they are reprimanded for fidgeting with the long desired gadgets being tantalizingly placed right in front of them.
Tiny hands try to handle an I-pad, and if they touch the screen a scribble appears across the shared whiteboard. The teacher calls them out for it.
Zoom has so many features. The little ones are dying to explore them. So the teacher spends the whole lecture saying, don’t unmute yourself, don’t scribble on the shared screen, don’t touch the computer, sit straight, look at the screen, Okay now unmute yourself and answer the question.
I had told my daughter to look out of the window every fifteen minutes or so to rest her eyes, because they had started hurting. Her teacher criticized her for not paying attention. Again, not the teacher’s fault. She is under tremendous stress to manage little ones, when she can barely communicate with them in any meaningful way.
Classes have become boring. Online education makes discussion difficult, because if the students are not muted, there is a cacophony of background noises. Also, if the teacher is using a smart phone she cannot see most of the students on the small screen to successfully engage the all the kids in the discussion. Teachers used to efficiently using the board, find the shared white board to be a clumsy tool. So they resort to playing YouTube videos. Every one is frustrated, and very little learning is happening, but a lot of time is being wasted.
Technical Difficulties, Stressed Out Parents and Teachers
So you are thinking, come on, look on the bright side. Parents can at least work from home, or do their chores, while the kids are busy with school. Not true, especially for parents of 4 to 8 year old kids.
Sometimes the meeting links or passwords don’t work, and parents waste a lot of time just trying to log the kids in. Add to that, some schools issue threats, that if students miss even one class they will be marked absent for the day. So parents scramble to figure out broken links by frantically messaging on the parent WhatssApp group.
For families with two or more kids, each kid has to be given a separate device and room so they don’t intrude on each other’s meetings. Alternatively kids need to be given headsets and get entangled with the wires. Wireless headsets are perhaps an option that would work, but then every family has to invest in several of them. We are working on this.
Little kids don’t respond properly to the technical instructions like mute yourself, unmute yourself etc, so parents have to supervise.
Often there are network issues and kids get logged out and miss a significant portion of the class, while parents need to drop everything and come to their aid right away.
Some microphones are sensitive and pick up ambient noise. So the teacher mutes the kid, and they feel left out or discriminated against.
It’s a harrowing experience for teachers trying to manage a class through video feed of the students.
Screen time is so tiring, neither parents nor kids have any energy left for either bonding or meaningful study at the end of it all!
What’s the prize?
So what is this experience all about? What exactly are schools trying to achieve? Are they succeeding?
Is sticking to the syllabus and completing it of such earth shattering importance for little ones?
What can be done?
School administrations and management need to introspect and evaluate their methods. They need to figure out a way to have just a few hours of school, in a manner that keeps the kids productively engaged.
Given the progression of the pandemic, online school is here to stay. We have to live with it. So it is necessary to see what is working, what isn't, and then re-evaluate and adapt.
Now more than ever, educational institutions need to practice what they preach: empathy, compassion and flexibility to accommodate kids, their parents, as well as teachers, to help them through trying times.