While virtual classes may not be a substitute for regular classes, they are a fairly reliable alternative to conventional classroom education at a time when reopening schools could endanger the health and lives of children.
With most parents and experts apprehensive, state governments would do well to wait & watch before implementing the Union Government’s decision regarding partial reopening of schools from 21 September.
Tamil Actor Surya Sivakumar recently made a statement that prompted a Madras High Court Judge to write to the Chief Justice, seeking permission to initiate contempt proceedings against him. The statement, made in anguish after four NEET candidates in Tamil Nadu committed suicide allegedly due to anxiety and fear of failing the exam, articulated a poignant truth. The actor said: “Courts were delivering justice through video-conferencing due to life-threatening coronavirus fears (but) are ordering students to fearlessly go and write the exams.”
This isn’t the first time 45-year old actor, who also runs an organization which works to educate underprivileged children, made remarks on matters related to education. Meanwhile, 25 lawyers and six former judges of the High Court also wrote to the Chief Justice, urging him not to initiate contempt proceedings him.
Students and the Pandemic
Though the aforementioned incident brings to mind the Supreme Court’s 17 August order rejecting petitions for postponement of the NEET-JEE exam schedule in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it also evokes an oft-neglected aspect of the pandemic and resultant lockdown – the predicament of students.
The pandemic has certainly not been kind to students. To begin with, they have had to grapple with the challenges of the relatively new experience of online learning. These include lack of opportunities for hands-on learning, of teacher supervision, of collaborative learning, and most of all, human contact. No matter how well children cope with visual learning, they’ll always miss the tactile-visual aspects of the classroom experience – an encouraging pat from the teacher, an approving nod from her, her personal attention while correcting a notebook, and so on. Then, there are technical hurdles like internet glitches. Many also live in cramped, urban homes that cannot offer the quietude of the classroom. As a result, students have had to adapt anew, and train their minds to concentrate and learn amidst the many distractions of the home environment.
However for all its drawbacks, remote education provides children with a structured learning environment at a time when conventional learning inside a classroom isn’t possible. For most students, online classes conducted by the school does offer a measure of discipline and routine. It is important to mention that virtual learning has largely succeeded because of the efforts of teachers, who have proactively worked to overcome the challenges associated with it. “Teachers have responded brilliantly to the challenge, the crisis bringing out their willingness to participate and help” says Shukla Bose, in context of her organization Parikrma Humanity Foundation, which provides education to children from the slums of Bangalore. From using apps for conducting live classes to recording interactive videos, teachers all over the country – and world – must be lauded for adopting novel, innovative methods to make online learning for children accessible and fun. Given that the experience is equally new for them and the fact that they must confront the very issues faced by students – lack of human touch, distractions of home, internet problems – it is no mean achievement on their part.
Teachers have responded brilliantly to the challenge, the crisis bringing out their willingness to participate and help.Shukla Bose, founder of Parikrma Humanity Foundation
Watch: How teachers are coping with online education
What the Experts Say
While online classes may not be a substitute for regular classes, they are a fairly reliable alternative to conventional classroom education at a time when reopening schools could endanger the health and lives of children. Understandably, the decision of the Ministry of Home Affairs – though not mandatory – to permit partial reopening of schools from 21 September, has been met with apprehension from parents, teachers, and industry experts.
According to Dr. Anant Bhan, a specialist in global health and policy, the move is not free of risks. He says “Reopening of schools should first be attempted in areas with low-infection rates and once the success rate is determined, schools in high-infection areas like Mumbai and Delhi should be opened.”
Reopening of schools should first be attempted in areas with low-infection rates and once the success rate is determined, schools in high-infection areas like Mumbai and Delhi should be opened.Dr. Anant Bhan, specialist in global health and policy
Ashok Thakur, the founder of Muni International School and an expert in the field of education, voices a similar opinion. “We, at Muni International begun embracing technology – audio-visual aids, Tablet PCs and e-books – long before COVID-19 became a word. As someone with first-hand knowledge of the benefits of online learning for kids, I can safely vouch for its success even over a long period. Besides, it has become a necessity in these times. An effort to return to normalcy prematurely, at the cost of our children, will only prove counterproductive.” Interestingly, the unique model of learning followed at Muni International, a top budget private school, has long included pioneering methods that regular schools have only started adopting now.
“We, at Muni International begun embracing technology – audio-visual aids, Tablet PCs and e-books – long before COVID-19 became a word. As someone with first-hand knowledge of the benefits of online learning for kids, I can safely vouch for its success even over a long period. Besides, it has become a necessity in these times.”Ashok Thakur, founder of Muni International School & education expert
Even parents are not too sure if it’s the right time to reopen. According to a survey conducted by LocalCircles, a community social media platform, only 33 percent of parents support the reopening of schools for their children.
It must be noted that in the U.S, where schools reopened in early August, there was a sharp increase in the number of Coronavirus cases in children. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association, more than 75,000 children tested positive for COVID-19 between 30 July and 13 August, a 24 percent increase from two weeks earlier.
Watch: Coronavirus instantly explodes at schools
Likewise, schools were reopened in Israel in May after a decline in the number of Coronavirus cases, but within a fortnight, COVID-19 clusters were identified in several schools in Israel, leading authorities to close schools where staff and students were found infected.
Lives are Precious
While the government insisted on holding the NEET-JEE exams and the apex court refused to postpone them in the midst of a raging pandemic because “a precious year” must not be wasted, it would be disastrous to adopt the same approach with regard to school-going children. Time is precious, but certainly not precious enough to imperil the lives of students for the sake of.
In an interview with The Economic Times on 17 August, Manish Sisodia, Delhi deputy chief minister and state education minister, had said, “We cannot even think of reopening schools. We cannot take a risk with the health of our children.”
We cannot even think of reopening schools. We cannot take a risk with the health of our children.Manish Sisodia, Delhi Deputy Chief Minister & State Education Minister
The risk is indeed not one worth taking. The state governments ought to carefully consider the pros and cons before implementing the Union Government’s decision.