2020 has been full of uncertainty. The pandemic and subsequent lockdown have had us struggling to adjust to changes like never before. First it was days, then weeks, then months. Now we are not even sure.
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There’s a meme doing the rounds on social media these days, about the most widely asked questions right now.
Those of us who are working from home and attending virtual meetings will be quite familiar with the last two questions. In fact, so will our children, who have been having virtual school for the last several weeks.
Every weekday, we ensure that our children are glued to the computers or mobile phones for their 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m classes. Classes/lectures are of 30-45 minutes, with most of the time going in the teacher requesting the children to pay attention or stop talking or switch on the video or some such instruction. It’s just like a normal school day, except that it isn’t normal. It’s exhausting for the teacher, for the students and for the parents too.
For the children who are accustomed to attending tuition classes, the day’s ordeal is not over even after school hours. At least 2-3 hours are spent in coaching classes that are also being held online. These supplementary classes are not just for clearing doubts and understanding concepts. They’re to achieve near perfection that will ensure the golden 95% marks, without which they (and their parents) think that they will not succeed in life.
We send our children to school not only to study, but also to learn what we call social skills – how to mix with others, make friends, communicate, adjust and share. Teaching a chapter from the text book can be done online, but how will children share their tiffins or sit in the library with their best buddies or run in the corridors or kick footballs, virtually? These are the things that make children wake up in the morning to go to school/college. They help children cope with academics and keep them happy.
As a parent and a teacher, I can see the stress building up in children. Stress can have a positive impact when it helps to avoid danger or meet a deadline. The stress brought on by studies, the stress to achieve in these trying circumstances, is causing frustration and anger and a lot of unpleasantness. Teachers are stressed too. We are striving for normalcy, but at what cost?
Many parents are not keen to send their children back to school for the rest of the year – not until the virus goes away or a vaccine comes out. Realistically thinking, children will not be going back to school for the year academic year of 2020-21. So this stress is going to continue for many more months. Possibly longer.
A full year of happiness is taken away from our children’s lives. Can we not empathise with them and take the stress of marks away?
We have before us the opportunity to shift from the marks rat-race to pragmatic thinking. This is the right time to change our attitude towards education. This is the right time to help our children realise their potential, and not just in academics. Towards this I’d think it appropriate to declare this year a ‘zero year’, meaning teaching and learning will happen to the extent possible, but there will not be grading or exams or promotion to the next class. Instead of academics, focus can be turned to life basics.
Nature has warned us through this virus that we need to return to basics. Basic skills are what our children need to survive. Let them be taught skills that they can learn without stress. Now the question is which skills? What all can be done in a closed environment?
Schools can do activities around critical thinking. They can have debates, elocution, writing, painting, dancing, photography, film making. They can do small modules on marketing, finance and communication. They can hold quizzes. They can get children to collaborate for some of these. They can encourage the children to complete certain household tasks – such as cooking, washing vessels, ironing, stitching. There are many ways of engaging with the children in a way that they look forward to their school day, albeit at home.
Some parents are worried about the children losing one or two years of their academic lives. The curriculum can be adjusted so that this need not be the case. Even otherwise, as all of us know from our own lives that a couple of years makes no difference in the long run. In countries like Singapore and Thailand, boys have to mandatorily get army training after school, for two years. They do not consider these as lost years.
All this while, I’ve had in mind, children from families that have the infrastructure that supports virtual learning – computers/ smartphones, internet connectivity, electricity. There are thousands of children who do not have access to these. For them there is the mental trauma of feeling left behind. A zero year will also benefit students for whom there is no alternative to classroom learning.
These are extraordinary times that will go down in history. Let us not be in a hurry to return to school.
Also read: College teachers miss classroom interaction, say online’s not working E-learning policy: Govt can’t have one solution for all types of schools, says expert In e-learning push, corporation schools in Mumbai left in the lurch “Online classes are critical for underprivileged children during COVID”