A Life Beyond the Physical Classroom
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Author : Sajida Zubair
On 22nd March 2020 while working on the final results for the academic session 2020-21, we heard rumours of a possible lockdown to contain a possible pandemic situation. The management of our school asked us to complete work within a day and wrap things up. On 24th March, 2020, the national lockdown was announced by the Prime Minister, which would last for 21 days. No one had foreseen or prepared for the impact of a sudden lockdown on a nation of 1.38 billion. What followed was no less than a nightmare. The nation came to a standstill. But not all could afford to ‘stand still’ – the stories of migrant daily workers who were clueless about their future had already started a walk of pain and misery. Each day we heard aching and agonizing stories of people struggling to survive. While some enjoyed the ‘stay home stay safe’ order, many suffered due to hunger and desperation.
Every day people waited for updates from central and local authorities. The administrative circulars, already beyond usual comprehension, now began to consist of thalis, taalis, prayers, half-hearted measures and other such acts of public performance. From September 2020 onwards to the early months of 2021, a sense of calm prevailed, with a false hope that the worst was behind us. Gatherings, parties and weddings resumed. This, along with the mutations of the virus led to a dangerous second wave some people had anticipated and predicted, but had mostly been ignored. More circulars and announcements followed. The pandemic has completed more than a year now.
Schools too were shut down immediately. This happens after the much awaited NEP (National Educational Policy) which advocated a holistic approach towards the development of a child. Initially, this was meant to be a short-term closure but over the next few days, many states decided to keep schools closed for the remainder of the academic year.

The sudden introduction to the ‘online world’

With very few instructions from CBSE, we were asked to teach ‘online’. All classes were forced to close their physical classrooms and an unpredictable break for students started. This transition into the online world wasn’t an easy one. It came with many headaches. This period will irrevocably shape the future of our children, in ways we cannot fully comprehend right away.

Teachers who were accustomed to classroom teaching were thrown into the vast world of an unknown territory of bits and binary. What followed next is the downloading and uploading process of a non-traditional system of education. The children who were enrolled in schools for the session 2021-22 last year have no clue what a classroom is and their early social behavioural development is something the educators need to worry about. Parents too have suffered.

Everything that was done in a classroom was now a new task for parents, especially for younger students, who need much more hand-holding and guidance.

This was followed by an online educational market like the coding boom. Online education unexpectedly became a greater business opportunity. Every webpage one opened was sure to click on the ad that said ‘online classes for your kids’. This was followed by virtual paid tuition, classes, schools and apps. The benefits are yet unknown, and the lack of standardization is also questionable.

While private schools tried very hard to maintain the standard of education through online mode, the government educational institutions suffered a lot as most students in these institutions are wards of parents who are daily wagers. There have been some painful reports where the children of poor parents were demanding smart phones and when parents failed to provide them due to unemployment post lockdown, few of them even took the extreme step of suicide.

After the teachers were asked to come to schools regularly as the first wave waned, one morning in the last week of November, a parent came to our office. She dropped blank, newly covered notes and workbooks and helplessly told us that her child is not listening to the parents, has no interest in watching the videos that are sent by the teachers and requested us to reopen schools.

Long term effects
The question that is worrying many is whether the online education system is of benefit for our children. One cannot deny the fact that the online mode of education is here to stay given the fact that schools are not going to open any time soon, especially for younger children. Children also remain unvaccinated. While online education does have some positives like easy accessibility from the comfort of our homes in addition to its flexible, personalized and convenient nature, one cannot deny the reality of its cons having much greater impact on a child’s personality development in general and society in particular.

While educators have seen a rise in the attendance of students during online learning, there have been negative impacts on students’ holistic development. It was soon realised by educators that students are not able to focus on their screen for long periods. The children who were used to more colourful, rapidly changing screens of their monitors or smartphones were less interested in the single scene teaching-learning process; hence there is a greater chance for students to be easily distracted by social media or other sites.

The ground reality of ‘Digital India’
India is a country of villages with limited access to connectivity in terms of both physical and virtual modes. When the government declared ‘Digital India’, the ground realities were totally ignored. A good example of this is the place where I live, Andaman, most people still depend on 2G.

For an effective online learning process, the teachers are required to have a basic understanding of using digital forms of learning. Therefore, the National Council of Educational Research and Training, (Ministry of Education, Govt of India) came up with DIKSHA portal to train teachers. With more than 3,16,02,97,270 users, this also seems to be a number game and publicity stunt for the government, as most of the trainers are teachers who belong to schools from the national capital and have no idea about various challenges their counterparts face in remote areas such as Assam or Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Though many educational experts were always skeptical about the memorization method of assessment in a traditional teaching system, one cannot deny that this helped students develop better memory power. In online learning, the tests or exams seem to have lost their integrity and students do not hesitate to cheat or copy their answers. This is sure to affect their sense of responsibility, resulting in dishonesty in the long run.

Classrooms are places of physical activity. The closure of schools has made children sit idle for long hours in front of their screen. This is affecting their health and hampering their physical development too. Many children are largely confined indoors. Digital gadgets have taken the place of friends. Online usage or entertainment has reported 82% increase in screen time spent daily. With more than 2 hours of screen time, a vast majority of Gen Z is going to suffer from myopia by 2050, according to a report published by The Indian Express by Dr. N Anuradha.

Humans are social animals. No human can break the relationships of mutual interdependence. These days, many couples are opting for a single child. A human being cannot live alone. A child needs to develop certain natural basic life skills in order to survive and succeed in life, not just in terms of monetary achievements, but more importantly, as a human being. This new way of learning online requires little to no face-to-face interaction with classmates and teachers and hence lacks the interactive elements of traditional classrooms. When students interact with their teachers and classmates, they develop confidence, ability to express and cooperate, but online learning reduces these practical experiences of communicating and working as a team.

Nelson Mandela said “Children are our greatest treasure. They are our future.” A society’s destiny rests on the way the children are trained and educated. If this is ignored then a selfish and materialistic world awaits for Gen Z. Educators and experts need to work in developing a better learning environment and the government needs to invest in the education and health sectors substantially.

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