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Online classes not a hit

Last updated on July 28, 2020

The pandemic has forced toddlers and school students to attend online classes. It poses a challenge to students, parents and teachers who feel is not a viable alternative to classroom education

 Life has to find a way to go on in the face of the pandemic. Technology is the popular means of imparting education at all levels–from medical and engineering colleges to toddlers who have recently been initiated to playschool.

There are many software programs for classroom education to suit varied needs. It’s a silent revolution happening—instead of being in the classroom with their peers, students are face to face with a computer screen sitting in their homes, trying to remain focused on what’s being taught, and teachers trying to hold their attention sitting in their homes.

It’s especially challenging for the age group 3-5 years. They are curious, hyperactive, easily distracted with enormous energy, and have a short attention span, which  makes it very difficult to have them sit at one place, and listen to what the teacher has to say.

The whole idea of attending school, stepping out of the house, going to a place of learning, meeting a peer group and teachers, forging friendships, inculcating a routine, are so integral to the whole growing up experience – -and now this strange phenomenon of online schooling. It’s definitely a substitute for the real thing.

“I won’t call online classes a poor substitute. It’s not a substitute. It’s the need of the hour as there’s no other option. It’s difficult for both the students and the teachers,” says Ekta Kapoor who’s a teacher in the primary section of a Catholic school. She plays a dual role, that of a teacher and parent of 6-year-old twins, Advik and Ayana.

“It’s difficult to make children sit at one place,” she says. That’s the case when they are in a conventional school space, face to face. Online, it’s even more difficult. Ekta explains that the transition was difficult, almost took a month to get used to the ‘new normal’ of e-learning.

Children are not used to sitting put at a place, that too in their homes, and listening. But things have improved in the last few weeks. To make it easier for young children, the timing has also been changed. The classes start at 9 am, not too early. The duration of the class is half an hour, then children get a 20-minute interval. There are three classes a day.

Her school uses Microsoft Teach software. After taking the roll calls—though attendance is not mandatory and a recorded link of the class is shared online for those who missed the class—the video is switched off for it causes “distraction.” But the flip side is also true, there’s no way to know if the children are paying attention to what is being taught if not visually connected.

Parents, therefore, have an additional task: to supervise online classes. Lajpat Nagar resident Ritu Singh’s 5-year-old son Rahul, would invariably fall asleep on the couch while the class was going on. “He couldn’t leave the place—is very scared of the teacher—but would soon stop following, and could barely stay awake.”

So Ritu makes it a point to sit with Rahul and pretend to be a student like him. “I’m my son’s classmate these days,” she laughs but is also worried. “The quality of online learning is not very good. This cannot go on forever,” she says.

Ekta agrees and adds, “The scenario is completely changed. There’s no face-to-face interaction.” And the peer group at this formative stage is crucial to building necessary social skills. “It’s fairly challenging for the teachers to keep children engaged during a class,” she adds.

They use visual aids to make lessons interesting like photographs, diagrams, etc. Also in place is an online class-book and worksheets. To give the whole exercise a semblance of seriousness, parents and pupils alike are asked to dress decently– though school uniform is optional.

Richa Srivastava taking online classes

The good news is both teachers and students are getting better at using technology with every passing day. Children are inherently fast learners and this fact is used to her advantage by Richa Srivastava, a nursery teacher in Noida. She takes it as a challenge. “It’s not easy to hold the attention of children for an hour,” she says. She’s innovative, prepares her lessons well, uses multimedia, diagrams, drawings, videos, songs to make lessons interesting.

Richa feels it’s important to be visually connected, and lessons are pictorially reinforced. Her sheer presence keeps the young students stay put in a place. If there’s a video snag, children immediately get edgy, “Where’s the teacher gone?”

She uses stories—today it was ‘Thirsty Crow’—to introduce various concepts like colour, shapes. Children look forward to meeting her. Recently a student sent her a video where, with a flair of an actor, danced for her in a frock, “Richa ma’am is my favourite teacher,” the little girl parroted.

Technology is fairly efficient at bridging gaps, but some things are hard to replace, like playing in the field, group activities–sports, dance and art work. Some parents are worried that e-learning is a compromise, and might have a lasting impact on the learning and social skills of their children.

Kshitij N, 21, an engineering student residing in Noida, and is at the fag end of his student life, attends online classes. Like toddlers, he finds it hard to keep a tab on what’s being discussed. “I put the lesson on mute, instead, watch Netflix,” he said in a matter-of-fact way, “If I miss the attendance call, I can always blame it on a bad connection.”

Thus, across all age groups, engagement remains a major flaw in online classes. But these are early days, and experts see e-learning as a viable alternative to classrooms, not just a contingency alternative during the pandemic. “The students of the future will demand the learning support that is appropriate for their situation or context…at the moment the need arises,’ explains Dr Marcus Specht, professor of advanced learning technology. For Jack Messman, former CEO at Novell, “Online learning is fast becoming the most cost-effective way to educate the world’s rapidly expanding workforce.”  Change, like life, is also the essence of learning.

(Cover: 6 years twins, Advik and Ayana, attending online classes)