Move to begin online classes hasty, Kerala parent support group warns chief minister
Many schools across India reopen today with classes shifted online following the coronavirus pandemic. Is this too hasty and harmful for children’s mental health? Concerns that TogetherWeCan, the Kerala-based parent support group has raised with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and other state government authorities.
Across Kerala and many parts of India today, schools reopen online. This means children will be logged onto their devices and hooked to the screens as teachers take them through the syllabus.
Is this shift to online teaching too hasty and likely to affect children negatively? Concerns that TogetherWeCan (TWC), an advocacy group that addresses the rights of children with disabilities, has raised in a petition with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and other senior level officials.
Lockdown heightens stress levels
Children are already stressed after two months of lockdown. Play and the social interaction that follows builds resilience in kids. This was cut short. Many children are also privy to the stress of parents. None of these concerns have been addressed. On the other hand, curriculum planning has started straight away. We decided to petition the state government after speaking to many parents and teachers across India. We have started with Kerala given our greater familiarity with the ground realities here. – Seema Lal, Special Educator/Co-founder, TogetherWeCan
“Does the child constantly look at your teacher’s face and listen to him?”, asks Padma Pillai, parent to a 14-year-old child with autism and member of TWC. “The identity of the child is completely absent. Kids sitting in front of a screen for too long sums up a disaster. Does anyone care?”
Need to explore alternatives to online classes
The petition suggests alternative means. One of the recommendations made is that syllabus for grades 1 to 8 be modified with greater emphasis on reading. “With no child being detained until grade 8 as per the RTE it is possible for all concepts to be taught once school resumes”, points out Seema.
Other suggestions include using pre-recorded videos or power points instead of live sessions, simplified reading material for classes 9 t0 12, teacher training and parent empowerment sessions. The other major concern is that differentiated teaching as specified under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act and inclusive education norms will be missed out in online education.
Petition flags mental health concerns
“Our appeal is only to slow down, wait , plan and discuss with all stakeholders. Have some protocols and safety guidelines”, adds Seema. “Prioritise mental health and social emotional learning more than curriculum”.
One of the approaches could be to look at how other countries are addressing this issue. In the United Kingdom for instance, internet safety policy laws do not allow for online tutoring for kids up to class 8. Instead assignments and challenges are given to kids to be completed by a certain date.
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