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Logging on to the class

E-learning is a poor substitute for classroom instruction as it leads to social isolation and limits personality development

A UNESCO report estimates that nearly 300 million students worldwide are out of school due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, fears that “the global scale and speed of the current educational disruption is unparalleled and if prolonged, could threaten the ‘right to education’.” The hardest hit by the lockdown are the disadvantaged children and youth.

Also read: Safety concerns abound as online classes for children become a reality

The report says over 320 million students in Indian schools and colleges have been hit hard, as these institutions remain closed. Students from Classes 9 to 12 will be the worst hit. More than 130 million students who will be appearing for the Board exams face an uncertain future.

The Finance Minister on May 17 announced that efforts are being made by the Human Resource Development Ministry to leverage digital technology for teaching by dedicating 12 channels, one for each class. This will help all those children who do not have computers and Internet connectivity at home. However, no timeline has been set to implement this initiative.

Many private schools have started e-classes. But unfortunately, not many students have benefited as those from poor households which do not have a TV or computer are unable to log in. The governments need to expand the reach of e-learning and consider providing computers to poor students.

Even teachers are finding it difficult to adapt to online teaching. Many complain that children are not fully focused or are distracted by TV or what is going on in their houses. The behaviour of such children and their parents affects the entire class.

There is another problem that parents in many poor households are not familiar with digital technology, which may act as an impediment to helping their children in the age group of five to eight in attending online classes.

As most students remain glued to the screen for long hours, physical and psychological problems may crop up.

Many disadvantaged children will become undernourished without the midday meals served at school. Efforts should be made to identify such children and deliver food packets to them at home. There is another fear that when the schools reopen, disadvantaged children will find it difficult to catch up with studies, widening the gap in education with those from middle class and rich backgrounds.

In sum, e-learning is a poor substitute for classroom learning as it leads to social isolation and limits personality development.

The development of physical and mental faculties of children depends on participation in sports and extracurricular activities and bonding with other children. Proper teaching occurs only in a typical classroom setting where the teachers continually monitor the progress of the children and take steps to plug the learning gaps.

Hybrid learning

Extending the lockdown may cause great harm to children. It is for this reason the government should take immediate steps to reopen schools by issuing guidelines for physical distancing in the classroom.

In sum, only through a hybrid learning approach, by balancing online classes with classroom teaching, schools can ensure proper teaching.

One way of doing it is limiting the average class strength from 30 to 15. Half the class can attend on the first two days of the week, and the rest can do so the next two days. At any given point of time, only half the students should be in school. The schools should utilise the balance two days by conducting online classes, giving the students an opportunity to clear their doubts.

This is not a sure-fire formula, but a start worth making.

ksvenkat48@gmail.com

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Printable version | Jul 10, 2020 1:59:32 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/logging-on-to-the-class/article31876169.ece

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