Coronavirus has been raging in India. The cases are spiking daily. The Government’s strategy is to ease restrictions, as infections rise. However, a certain category of institutions remains shut and is expected to remain so in the foreseeable future – The Educational Institutions.
There is no opposition to the Government’s measures to lift the lockdown. Seemingly, the adults are fine when it comes to putting their lives at risk. But when it comes to the children, the parents are clear that they are going to remain at home. The Government also knows this and has stayed clear of opening up the schools and colleges; even the children parks.
Simultaneously, the parents also want to ensure that their wards do not miss out on education. The schools, too, would not want to be seen losing their supremacy on shaping up children’s future. The Government does not want to be considered behind the curve. As a result, online education has been lapped up by everybody concerned as a panacea to coronavirus induced lockdown of educational institutions.
However, the time has come to question the efficacy and the value of online education for children.
Education as Equalizer, and not Differentiator
Apart from many other roles, education is expected to play an extremely important function in providing equal opportunities to realize a child’s potential. Under the Right to Education Act, every child has a right to education of equitable quality.
With online education becoming a norm, it is anybody’s guess what would be happening to children in lower-income group families, rural and non-Metro households, Government schools etc. India’s programme to universalize primary education is “Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan” meaning “Education for All Movement”. Needless to say, “Sarva”, that is “All” would surely not be covered by online learning.
It is up to Governments, Centre and States, private schools and parents of children participating in online education to take the initiative for Zero Academic Year. Would they want to perpetuate the privilege of already entitled students or be seen as promoting universal access and equal opportunity for children from vulnerable sections of the society, that are being left behind in these times?
Education as Learning, and not Grades
The Indian education system faces accusations that it promotes rote learning and puts a detrimental focus on grades, above everything else. The shove for online learning further accentuates this long-held notion.
The children are being told to sit in front of the screen, listen to a monologue and that is it. Is this how real learning, for that matter any kind of learning, supposed to happen? I am sure this is not how private schools would want to show-case the learning environment in their schools.
The educators and Government need to raise the question if the children, across age-groups, are benefitting by online education. Are the children learning? Would they want to perpetuate the perception that it is only the examination at the end of the term that matters? And what happens during class-room teaching is just a needless distraction/pretence that online learning has successfully replaced?
Blended learning/Alternate attendance/Self-study
Several options are being floated to complete the syllabus, as and when the schools open. The most-talked option is 50% of the students present in the school on any given day. There is a jargon of blended learning, a combination of online and offline, doing the rounds. Some topics seem to be a contender for self-study by students.
June has ended. It does not look like coronavirus is going to wither away in two months. Meaning, the schools are not going to open before September, at best. With schools closed from last week of March, the teaching of the new term would have hardly started. This means that students would just get about six months in school to complete the syllabus. It is just not enough.
The teachers might run through the chapters, but the students cannot be expected to absorb so much of learning in so short a time. Would schools and parents want the foundation of the children to be strong or find them shaky in years to come?
Zero Academic Year
The parents having access to online education for their children might feel why should their children miss out on a year? The answer would be that this would be their contribution to a fair and equal society. No parent would want their children to be a part of society that promotes inequality for children. It is about “No Child Left Behind”.
Anyways, the efficacy of online education is highly debatable. There is no validity of what the children are gaining by sitting like a zombie in front of a screen.
Let the online education happen for those who want and who can, but not the promotion to the next grade. Lest we shall violate the principles of a just nation and the rights of the children to quality education.
Given the coronavirus, in the larger context of life ahead, a Zero Academic Year might be the best bet for children.