Are children in India ready for online schooling in 2020?

Over the last few weeks of lockdown, I have been getting calls and messages from parents asking if we offered any online courses. Many of my friends and people from my network have been puzzled on why we ( were not offering any online courses. Zoom was in fashion, everyone was taking online classes on Zoom, skype, etc. I was surprised and amazed (even) to read that schools were encouraged to start taking classes online. After a couple of weeks of online classes by the school, I am now getting calls from parents to check if we will be able to provide one-to-one in-person class for their children since they are now finding the online class ineffective and basically not helping at all. One of the parent went on to state that it was a complete waste of time! The age of the children ranged between nursery to 8th grade.

The other day, I was on, yes, zoom app in a group video chat of around 15 friends. People were logging in and out all the time. I could not hear 50% of the conversation most of the time. Further, I was getting distracted by the things happening in the background of some of the participants. Maybe it was just me or maybe others were too. The point here is I was having a very casual conversation with friends, at the end of the chat I was not sure who spoke what. But I was under no pressure to remember, take notes or understand every bit of conversation. Mind you, we were on the best network bandwidth available using high performance mobile devices and the most important factor being, we were all adults with tons of experience talking on video chats for official work.

Coming back to how we work at Advaitam, all our programs are conducted in-person and most of the time in small groups of around 6 children. The reason is simple, we need to guarantee that the children learn whatever they have come for. These children go to top schools with the best teachers and infrastructure. However, they do not learn fully in a classroom size of around 25 to 40 with two teachers. Parents find out that the children are "lagging" during PTM and they are asked to do something to bring them up to grade level. This is where Advaitam comes in. We are, if I may, the last line of support for the parents. We have our work cut out. The age of the children generally ranges from 3 to 10 years. Our approach includes very personalised strategies as per each and every child. We are able to teach these kids in matter of few months what they could not learn in two years of school.

Now let's consider the current scenario at school, children are learning in a group environment on a video chat. The question is how effective is this approach? Clearly the current online schooling situation is an unplanned emergency measure. There was no time to analyze the best options and evaluate it's pros and cons. But now it is upon us whether we like it or not. having said that, we still need to highlight the key challenges we discover as the children enter this new paradigm in school education. Following is an attempt to bring out the challenges faced by children and parents:

1) Distraction: Children being very curious are distracted by the slightest of things e.g. external sound, sight, sudden stoppage in teaching etc. If children are getting distracted in real classrooms with two teachers in a closed environment, not sure what type of environment is available at home, when, the one or both parent are also working from home on calls.

2) Ability of learning online: Every child is wired differently. After hundreds of years of experience, we know that children learn better when taught in person and small groups. Yes, children do watch TV and learn things, but it is based on the child's topic of interest. They just don't have the skills required to learn in an effective way from video chats. Online learning is a challenge even for the tech savvy adult, then let's not fool ourselves by watching commercials about small children learning online.

3) Need for parental involvement: Children just can't be left alone in front of the computer. In real world scenario adult supervision is required constantly to monitor how things are progressing. For example, check if the network connection is working, is the voice audible, getting doubts cleared etc. Parents need to be involved all the time and not sure how many parents can do that on a constant basis.

4) Network infrastructure: This is least of the problems, but none the less it has been the same for the last decade. We are still in the quest for uninterrupted connectivity.

But what are we worried about? All this is just temporary situation till the lockdown continues, after that we are back to normal. Well, this is not once in a millennium scenario. There are enough chances of similar situations occurring in future. The answer to all this is not only online classes but also faster learning process, smaller syllabus, dynamic academic year. With the current schooling structure, new changes are not easy to adopt. So who is going to suffer most? It's the children.

Advaitam will continue to support the parents and do it's bit to ensure children do not suffer or get stressed in this trying times.


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