Zero Academic Year: It Is Time Government, Schools, Parents Agree And Act

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.

5 Things Online Learning Tells Us About Indian Educational System

With the coronavirus induced lockdown, online learning is the new buzz word doing rounds in the Indian educational system. The schools and colleges are shut. The students and teachers are at home. Supposedly, the future of India is at stake. What has to be done? Online learning is the answer to all the coronavirus ills affecting the education sector.

The Honourable Union Cabinet Minister of HRD Ramesh Pokhriyal in every interaction with media and parents drops the name of online learning without fail. Every private school worth it’s salt has latched on to online learning bandwagon in some form or the other. Parents have to share their screens with the off-springs and they are more than willing for this intrusion.

There is no iota of opposition from any quarters about this charade of online learning in India. After all, it is an optimal application of the available technology for the noble purpose of educating future citizens. What would be wrong in that? Read on.

Right To Education – I

RTE Act, passed in 2009, is an obligation on the Government to provide and ensure admission, attendance and completion of elementary education by all children in the 6-14 age group.  RTE puts the onus on the Government for the education of a child and not the parent.

Now, which sane person in India would claim that parents of children going to government schools would be having access to a smart-phone to enable online learning for their children? If the parents cannot afford a smart-phone, how can a child access online learning?

The Government has conveniently palmed off its responsibility of ensuring education to government school children to parents. It has not even put up a facade. The Government talks about online learning happening in private schools and not government schools. The Government has left the students of her schools to fend for themselves. Who is going to bother, anyway?

This makes it amply clear that the Government of India was never bothered or interested in education in government schools in the first place. This is the first learning from online learning fuss.

Right To Education – II

The RTE Act requires all private schools to reserve 25% of seats for the poor and other categories of children. If there was ever a doubt that private schools are following the RTE Act in letter and spirit, the online learning drama puts it to rest.

All the private schools are gung-ho about online learning and claim that their functioning is going-on as usual. There is not even a smallest of whimper that a certain section of students is missing out on this initiative. The private schools claim that the parents and the children laud their execution and all of them are a part of their programme.

Does it occur to anyone that when 25% of students are admitted from the vulnerable sections of the society, how can cent per cent of the population be a part of the online learning plan? There have to be some students that will fall through the sieve, but astonishingly there are none.

One can say that this 25% of the children, in the reserved category, have parents that can afford a smart-phone and facilitate their online education. If anyone falls for this bluff, I am the reincarnation of Ashoka, The Great.

This entire ado about online learning in private schools only means that 25% of reserved seats under RTE were never filled by those it was meant for. This is a scandal that nobody will ever talk about; neither the Government nor the private schools and most sadly, not the parents of children studying in those schools. The second learning.

It Is All About Fees, Stupid

The private schools would want to continue charging their fees, even with the coronavirus lockdown. They surely cannot charge transport fees, mess fees, uniform fees and other miscellaneous heads. However, they want to cling on to their tuition fees – after all, this contributes the maximum to their coffers. How to go about this? Online learning is the answer.

With the online learning, the private schools can formally and legitimately show that they are delivering as per their promise and hence the parents are liable to pay their share of fees.

Would anyone dare challenge the efficacy of online learning and make a claim for pro-rata deduction in tuition fees? No ways. The private schools would claim 100% effectiveness of their programme and hence, the 100% collection of fees. After all, there is no one to call their bluff. The third learning.

The Proof Of The Pudding Is NOT In The Eating

So, online learning is delivering. Great. Let’s have an online examination. Where did the backers of online learning vanish? Why is the Honourable Union Cabinet Minister shying away? Why are the private schools completely silent on this aspect? Even the parents are not supportive of this idea.

What use is online learning if there is no online examination? An elephant has two sets of teeth, one for chewing and one for showing. So, is the case of online learning. The fourth learning.

Never Let A Child Be A Child

Coronavirus lockdown is the first extended opportunity for a child to spend time with her/his family up-close. This is the time for the child to learn first-hand what goes on in the household and figure out ways and means to be of help to the parents. This is the occasion to develop empathy for fellow citizens facing a harrowing time and create a base for real-time life learnings.

If nothing else, let the child be a child. Play. Rest. Explore. Connect. Freedom. No, the Zoom class beckons.

The Indian educational system would not let the child be a child, EVER. The fifth learning.

After all, the weight of school bags is not going to reduce in India.