Online classes: Bane or boon?

Considering that the present generation is heavily dependent on gadgets, getting them to use the devices is not an issue. Getting them to use them judiciously and in a manner that doesn’t drain them completely, however, requires a lot of planning and monitoring both by parents and teachers

One of the major sectors affected by the COV- ID-19 pandemic and the resultant lockdown has been institutionalised education.

Schools have been shut to prevent the spread of the virus, and this has given way to online classrooms, a very new concept even in the developed countries. Of course, distance learning, with online tutorials, is already in vogue in major varsities around the world. Now, to cater to the needs of all stages of education, from pre-primary to university level, online education has emerged as an alternative to ordinary face-to-face classes.

With this realisation, schools and universities are scrambling to provide online classes to their students so that they can resume academics without much gap, once the crisis is over. It is commendable how easily some educational institutions have moved to virtual classrooms, thanks to tools such as Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Team. Many teachers find these tools extremely helpful to make classes even more engaging than regular classroom.

Various stakeholders such as government and private organisations are trying their best to assist each other by sprucing up their existing online platforms, apps and providing training to teachers in their use. Moreover, efforts are being made by both government and non-government organisations and edtech companies to support the school system to make a smooth transition to the virtual world. Upskilling and motivating teachers, and organising counselling sessions for stakeholders such as teachers, parents and students are also being done.

A few crucial matters for excelling in distance learning are: Content transaction; communication (with students); time flexibility; consistency in follow-up.

Teachers and schools are putting extra effort to engage students in classes by revamping timetables, shifting discussions online, taking feedback from parents and monitoring students constantly. While there are some who are doing the bare minimum and using WhatsApp to stay connected with students, some schools are trying out tools like SeeSaw, Google Suite and YouTube videos to make online classes as engaging as offline ones.

Considering that the present generation is heavily dependent on gadgets, getting them to use the devices is not an issue. Getting them to use them judiciously and in a manner that doesn’t drain them completely, however, requires a lot of planning and monitoring both by parents and teachers.

However, this alternative medium has also brought to the fore some stark persistent realities of the society, especially in developing countries, characterised by social inequalities in terms of availability of resources, essential to access these online classes. These digital initiatives are perpetuating the hegemony of elite schools over the education system, resulting in the digital divide between rural and urban and rich and poor.

Students and teachers also have their own struggles while accessing these online platforms. Due to financial constraints, students are not able to access the internet, and are devoid of electronic gadgets and laptop, phone or computer or even radio and TV. Those students who have facilities to attend online classes face barriers in terms of unavailability of physical space, which is equally applicable to teachers who are supposed to conduct online classes from their home.

Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has put the spotlight on the ever-increasing structural imbalances in school education in terms of rural-urban, rich and poor and gender divide.

There are reports in the media about teachers and principals of low fee schools from across the world who are forced to change their job to survive and support their families as most of the schools have their shutters down. The schools which have managed to sail through such difficult situations are finding it difficult to acquire resources and upskilling their teachers to teach online.

Technology has been considered central to the reform of school education and has gained unprecedented momentum during this pandemic. It is being perceived as a panacea to combat all schooling-related issues, hence the hurry to transfer classrooms into the virtual world without taking into consideration the reach to all learners.

No matter how simple a technology or plan being used to provide education to all, some of the children will remain left out during critical situations due to poverty, migration or family problems. The education system is destined to face an array of issues post-Covid, from a new burden on state-runschools due to an influx of students from low fee private schools to psycho-social problems of children arising out of problems at home.

Given the above, governments should come forward with a policy perspective on a post-Covid response to education. This should entail a plan to address the specific academic needs and psycho-social needs of children once they return to school as well as strategies to mitigate COVID-induced issues related to the management of schools, addressing emerging learning gaps among children, and training of teachers to use the principles of blended learning.

There are also fears about children becoming excessively dependent on gadgets and affecting their character development.

The pandemic has prevented the children from indulging in outdoor sports and games and also socialising.

Parents must look for any behavioural change in their children. Have teachers provide counselling to the children. Involve the children in domestic chores to develop a sense of responsibility. Have a gentle but firm control over internet usage.

Online learning is here to stay, and making it effective and beneficial is the collective responsibility of the students, teachers and parents.

Anand teaches Chemistry at Kendriya Vidyalaya, Kathmandu