Metroplus

Masterji is just a click away!

A child enjoying a game on the tab Photo M. Periasamy.

A child enjoying a game on the tab Photo M. Periasamy.  

Parenting is serious business. Modern life with nuclear families and working parents as the norm has made it harder. Prashant Gunjan, a communications consultant, was at his wits end when his 21-month-old son continued to have high fever despite medication. Surfing the net he read about applying olive oil heated with garlic on the child’s feet which greatly helped. Having relocated to Delhi, Namita Singhal, single working mother, found it hard to locate a reliable crèche and weekend activities for her daughter. A click of button and she found details on several day care centres and events with complete details, including location, timings, prices and most importantly reviews by other users. “I would have spent weeks to garner this information,” she says. These are not isolated cases as the growing urban salaried middle-class takes on changing and challenging parenting situations with the help of online solutions and recommendations. Intending to teach basic cognitive skills many parents download games and activities on their mobile phones and tablets. Sadhana Juneja, nurse, has downloaded “Talking Tom” on her mobile for engaging her three-year-old daughter. “It has spurred her pick-up and motor coordination.”

So potent is the online learning platform that recently Tata Trusts (India), Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Tata Institute of Social Sciences announced a collaboration called Connected Learning Initiative (CLIx). It is geared to engage and provide hands-on experiences in mathematics, three science subjects and communicative English and is initially being offered to Government secondary school students. “The idea of connected is important. We expect CLIx to enhance peer to peer, within school and between school communications for students. We hope to ignite curiosity,” states P Sarangapani, Project Director.

Garima Bedi, a busy café owner based in South Delhi, has a tried and tested adviser in kleverkid.com. In 2014, Shabnam Aggarwal founded it when she observed parents perpetually grappling with lack of information about playschools, after school and extracurricular activities, tutors and coaches, etc. Operating in Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai, kleverkid lists several options with exhaustive details. Ramesh Bidani, a computer professional in Noida was keen to enrol his daughter for karate and dance classes. He was helped by the portal to locate the facilities closest to his residence detailing the frequency, strength, duration of the classes, charges and most importantly reviews. “Listing is based on four parameters namely, authenticity, safety, affordability and recommendations. All aspects are verified by the team before putting it on the site,” explains Shabnam. Reviews are constantly monitored with too many adverse reports leading to re-examination. “At times we remove them as the listing is free,” she informs. “I enrolled my child in a couple of programmes listed by kleverkid which were useful,” says Garima.

Online platforms are not confined to mere information dissemination. Gone are the days when one consulted friends and family members before deciding on coaching centres and avenues for extra-curricular activities. Now, parents depend on search engines.

Take the case of Flintobox, an early child development portal promoting educative models/kits for children between two and eight years. Co-founded by Arunprasad, Vijay Gandhi and Shreenidhi, it came into being when Vijay was concerned about his five-year-old son spending disproportionate time on television and mobile phones. Realising that 90 per cent of brain development occurs in the first six years activities and ideas to engage kids positively without constant parent’s supervision were curated. Designed by child psychologists, pedagogy experts and game designers, the play-based activities made with child-friendly materials, help develop skills and learn concepts. Each box covers a particular theme like world travelling, nature, garden exploration, automobile and colours.

Bangalore-based Ashwini Herur, a working mother who subscribed the kits for two years says: “My six-year-daughter learnt about wild animals, light and shade and colours, etc. She was able to replicate the concepts learnt as she did when she designed figures on wall through shadows.” Most of the activities can be done independently by the child but instruction sheets for parents are provided as well.

Assessing the value of such activity kits, Dr. Parul Tank, Consultant Psychiatrist, Fortis Hospital, Mumbai suggests that they are useful but one must be judicious in choosing them. “First six years are formative and require stimulation. Activity kits on colours, puzzles, spellings, matching of things, etc help in creativity, cognitive and lateral learning besides reducing TV hours.” However, she points out indoor activity reduces physical exercise and outdoor activities are necessary for hand-eye movement and coordination.

With extra coaching becoming a necessity for keeping up with competition academic portals have become popular with parents. “We cover the learning gaps created by overloaded curriculum through homogenous lessons ,” explains Rajeev Pathak, CEO, funtoot.com. Initially, the programme evaluates the child . Alteration in coaching is made based on the student’s performance over time by either speeding up or prolonging the learning path. Daily and weekly reports keep the student and parents abreast. All this is closely monitored by the company on a regular basis. Bangalore-based Chandrashekhar who enrolled his son Bharat, Class III student, for the maths module last year observes a marginal improvement in marks but a significant jump in his cognitive ability. “Importantly, instead of being glued to TV he keeps busy with his lessons,” he says with a sigh of relief.

A traditional player in the market, the MBD Group recently launched an e-learning portal with new set of software and mobile applications. Referring to e-learning as the future of the industry, Monica Malhotra Kandhari, the group’s senior director says: “It is a must have for all institutions, as the process of virtual learning process seeps the knowledge in the minds of readers using 3D diagrams and detailed learning.”

However, authentication of uploaded database is not a norm, sometimes leading to cheating and confusion. Vishal Gupta, one of the co-founders of mycity4kids.com, which helps parents search for kids related service and content providers, informs that the site includes templated data furnished by the vendors. “Our primary objective is to make available material on resources, events, skill enhancement activities, amusement, holidays, play areas etc to parents. We do not verify and leave people to form their opinion based on the reviews by others.”

Agreeing that online courses assist a child academic growth, Devender Sood, a full-time tutor in West Delhi, emphasises the necessity of human interaction. “A teacher can and does inculcate a value system, character building and kindling the spirit of enquiry in the student which is not possible by the machine.”

Reference points

Parenting blogs are becoming an important source for clearing doubts and seeking expert opinion. Kleverkid has its own writers and bloggers and focuses unique content. “We tackle complex issues which are an integral part of parenting like puberty and pornography generally avoided by others,” says Shabnam.

The decline in joint family system Vishal feels has made blogs pertinent. “Our generation has no reference point as information flow and recommendation have reduced. Instead of a vertical flow it is now a horizontal one –– with parents trusting views of other parents.” Like Indianmoms.connect and RivoKids his site has blogs and articles on motherhood and parenting by mothers and experts.

Lakshmi Jayaraman, Hyderabad, an expecting mother browses such blogs regularly along with her husband, Gunashekhar in preparation for the upcoming responsibilities. “At times information deluge and its contradictory nature cause confusion,” she avers. Prashant on the other hand receives blogs on his mail and shares them with his wife.

Portals like ShishuWorld.com also feature for baby’s breakfast, dessert and drinks among others. Its home remedies section, suggests simple methods for cold, cough, teething pain and diaper rashes.

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Printable version | Aug 12, 2020 9:52:39 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/masterji-is-just-a-click-away/article8199075.ece

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