Updated: May 3, 2021
How do most people see themselves? As someone who tries to win the race or someone who finds ways to cancel the race so winning and losing don't make a difference? But if there are no races to make our lives a little better, little more efficient and a little more comfortable, then probably, status quo must be our utopia and all engines of progress must be halted, the march to excellence must be smothered. But it doesn't matter what we think, what our agendas our, where we want to be in the race, in or out, the wheels are set in perpetual motion and it cannot be stopped.
Which is why the question, are schools important? Does primary education matter at all? If the answer is an obvious YES, then why ban online learning for preprimary and primary?
Argument one: Any screen time is harmful for children below 2 years and for children up to 12 year, prolonged exposure can be harmful.
Do we as parents don't let any screen time to our children, no youtube songs, Baby shark do do, while feeding them, no TV, no cartoons? Even when the schools were constantly reiterating against prolonged passive engagement with screens. Some of did really not allow our children any screen time, but do we have any alternative now, since we can't go to parks, malls, restaurants or any other places to socialise with other children. Can we really expect the children to only read and colour all day?
Ok, if we are really serious about this, then lets ban all screens for people who have children in this age group, because if its really harmful then parents exposing them to screen should be punished for child abuse offences, the same way a parent who would let his child us tobacco, alcohol or any other thing which would endanger the child or compromise their well being. Since this would be impossible let's try to be rational and advise minimum time limits for each age group backed by research and science, instead of a blanket ban.
Argument two: Not all schools, teachers and students have access to online learning tools
This is a great point, as a nation we should try to solve this issue with utmost sincerity and urgency. Governments should look at public private partnership models so that every child gets an equal opportunity to get an education. But even without Covid-19, 27% of Indian children did not have access to preprimary education, also according to article 45 providing access to free education is the responsibility of the state. So instead of increasing the number of children without primary education, shouldn't Karnataka state finding solutions to provide accessible education to more children. The government should approach the industry to find this solution, instead of destroying the education sector itself. Let's talk about privilege, let's talk about all the things we can do in the cities and most people in small towns and villages cannot. This is the sad reality of the world we live in, some can sleep in a Rs 5 lakh bed, some cannot even earn that in their life time. Socio- Economic disparities are the realities of this world and needs states, governments, economists, industries and newer technologies to work towards decreasing this gap. Internet was suppose to be a great leveller, people with ideas, products and services can reach out to anyone in any corner of the world and expect better monetary returns in exchange. How did we suddenly feel internet is something that which will leave us behind?
Argument three : Parents cannot manage their own WFH and children's SFM
This is one of the most reasonable argument put forward by many parents, but is this really an argument against online school or our economic conditions. Parents have to decide between providing food on the table and education on a laptop, of course food wins. This has been the state of many families across small towns, villages in this country but the middle class never expected it to hit them so hard. Reduced schools hours along with easy to do sessions should aim to also reduce parental involvement in these online sessions. Finally hardware providers can tie-up schools just as uniform providers do and provide laptops or tablets on easy EMIs. But no matter what the solution some parents will still be at disadvantage, this has nothing to do with the Virus or online education.
There are no answers, to the disparity in this country or in the world, but every one is working hard to make it a better world, a prosperous country with equal opportunity. Though things have changed in India a lot specially since 1991, but times like these and gaps open up wide. Can this ban on online be more harmful to children under 12 or exposing them to screens for a couple of hours will be more? Someone has to do the cost benefit analysis and in absence of any scientific reports, parent will have to take that call individually.
Why parents are unhappy with schools, which led to this ban?
Education system in itself hasn't evolved in the last two centuries, but taking the whole classroom online will not help it become better. Teaching in a class environment and online are completely different and schools have to change their method of teaching in the short term. Long term the states and pedagogists should create newer frameworks and teaching methodologies along with a curriculum fit for 21st century. May be going online is the best way to reach the remote corners of this country and provide education to the masses. Many private companies and NGOs would want to partner to make online schools accessible to all, the cost of technology is longer a barrier, corporates too can do their bit under CSR to reach out.
Schools should have reduced their fees, since there will definitely be some savings in infrastructure maintenance costs. Schools should renegotiate rents, local municipalities should reduce property taxes for schools and help out, this will be a though year for schools, the owners and managements of schools shouldn't be aiming to make profits but survive this year but reducing costs and at the same time provide the benefits of reduced cost to the parents. Schools should be even open to taking some losses in these times but to charge full fees or create fear of losing enrolments in parents has brought this ban tragedy upon it.
Finally preschools are just collateral damage in this, only a few parents take education at preschool level seriously, though there is enough data on importance of preschool and early formal learning. There is a real danger of 30-40% preschool shutting due COVID 19, with the ban on online learning directly affecting this sector, the closure percentage is going to climb even higher. Parent feel enrolling in preschool currently is not important and hence most schools have only 10-15% parents that too, the ones who may have had paid advance fees. Majority parents will only send their children to the preschools once its perceived to be completely safe, hence schools providing some online guidance, activities and learning materials to willing parents should be allowed to do so to earn some revenue and stay afloat.
When the virus disappears, I hope it doesn't take away preschool and daycare too with it.
The theory of evolution explains, probably eons ago, the population of primates grew, either there wasn't enough food on the trees or the rip and sweeter food was on the jungle floor, our ancestor climbed down. Foraging and gathering for better nutrition, along with means to avoid conflict improved their chances of survival. This set out in motion a need to constantly find smarter ways to survive as they faced newer adversaries on ground. Fast forward to about 6-7 million years, the primates have evolved and every small change they made over the years to improve their survival only meant their evolution to new species humans landed on top of the food chain. Now evolution doesn't mean progression, ants are much better organised than humans live and thrive perfectly well, they have adapted much better to the environment and hence continue to prosper in that state. Also, fun fact, there are more ants than humans on planet earth and they discovered agriculture way before we did. In short at some point in our evolution cycle, we started to care more about other things than just about survival and that's why the world looks as it looks right.
Change is the only constant, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us, we are at an important juncture yet again. Today, as it may have happened my times in our past, the status quo has been challenged by nature, we will find way to survive like we always have. But what about all the other things we built along the way, special schools which allows the next generation to preserve all our collective lessons, innovate and make the world even better place.
Lots of people want to quit the rat race, want to chill in their pyjamas and flip flops, but we can't climb back to that tree, can we?