The Better India regularly features domain experts who contribute articles on key developments and insights from their field of experience. Today, we feature Mrs Monica Sagar, Principal of Shiv Nadar School, Gurugram, who writes about how education has embraced technology and its plethora of opportunities and challenges.
Who would have thought at the beginning of 2020 that this would be such a re-defining year in our lives? The Covid-19 pandemic has affected all of us one way or the other. While adults started working from home, school students transitioned to the Virtual School experience, adjusting in a couple of weeks.
From a student’s perspective, this was a new, seemingly bizarre routine of staring at and interacting with thumbnails on a screen, interspersed with offline assignments and co-scholastic engagements.
This medium of education brings issues for children across physical, mental, and emotional dimensions. One needs to be aware of what they are and how to address them, to ensure the well-being of our children.
Digital work has led to physical stress in terms of incorrect postures, insomnia and eye strain. These need to be addressed continuously for children attending Virtual Schools. As an example, there is a simple 20-20-20 rule for eyestrain, which means that for every 20 minutes spent on a screen, you should try to look away for 20 seconds at something that is 20 feet away.
Battling insomnia includes simple but essential sleep hygiene measures such as not sleeping immediately after looking at a screen, sleeping for 6-8 hours every day, taking a bath at night, and listening to soothing music before retiring for the day.
From a mental well-being perspective, parents must also understand that it is not easy for a child to focus on their teacher if they hover while a virtual class is ongoing. In a virtual environment, children need their space, and parents should learn to respect it.
Also, they should be allowed to interact with their buddies telephonically or virtually. Lack of peer interaction because of physical distancing will have a long-term impact on their social skills, their personalities and can dent their confidence levels.
Emotionally as well, children are going through the effects of the pandemic and processing it like the rest of us. In addition, they have their insecurities to deal with. The future seems to be in limbo for the CBSE class of 2020, stuck amid their year-12 exams and unsure of their destination for undergraduate studies! Imagine what is going through their minds! Be sure to communicate with your children regularly, reassure them, and let them feel your support.
For a miniscule percentage of students, physical presence in the school building, and their peer circles were an escape hatch from the physically or emotionally abusive atmosphere at home. Given the lockdown, they are unable to find respite and episodes of self-harm are rising.
From a parent-teacher perspective, too, it is crucial to give each other space. The mentor-mentee relationship within a classroom doesn’t thrive if there are spectators during the exchange, who viciously judge the mentor. It pains educators to see parent groups on WhatsApp judging the quality of instruction and engagement during the last two months of virtual learning. Virtual education cannot replace face-to-face education because schools are meant to teach social interaction and collaboration and not social distancing. It is still possible to offer a modality of instruction virtually, but that is not the same thing. Parents should focus on the outcome – that the learning goes on.
In fact, things have taken an unsavoury turn with some parents refusing to pay the tuition fee. We don’t refuse to pay the electricity bills or phone bills after the usage of these services. So why question the tuition fee? Even teachers have families to care for, infrastructure to support and domestic responsibilities and challenges. They are unsung COVID-19 warriors, and hats off to them for shaping the present and the future assiduously, despite all the challenges.
The safety of our children, teachers, and staff is paramount, and only that should guide our decisions for the reopening of schools. Until then, we need to acknowledge the changed realities of our lives and ensure that children do not stop learning.
(Written by Monica Sagar with inputs from Dr Nitish Dogra. Edited by Shruti Singhal)