Veronika Mehra, 12, gets up at 6 am and dresses up to sit in front of her laptop for school studies. Later in the evening, she learns how to play the piano – on a cellphone application.
She is among lakhs of children whose world has undergone a 360-degree change. Most Delhi schools have made online classes mandatory, amid the lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. They are using apps, WhatsApp messages and emails to provide study material and assign homework.
Life for children has changed like never before. Schools are closed and meetings with peers and friends outdoor are prohibited. They are being forced to adjust to the changing dynamics of social and interpersonal relationships.
“We are sending online tools videos, links of YouTube and personal videos of teachers to parents to keep students stimulated,” said Ameeta Wattal of Springdales School, Pusa road.
“As there is no clarity on how long the situation will last, we are looking at how we can teach students in small capsules to help catch up with learning,” she said.
WHAT PARENTS SAY
“Though online classes from schools and coaching centres started one and a half months ago, many children are not grasping lessons quickly. As they are locked at home, it is difficult for them to focus on studies sincerely,” said Bhawna Arora, a house-wife.
“Technology has evolved and educational methods have modernized, but a bedroom or living room can’t replace a classroom. I have to record all online classes and then again make my eight-year-old revise them,” she said.
Children need stimulation.Parents need to add physical activity and board games with fun elements. Children need to be kept positive and have a routine.
RISE OF ED-TECH FIRMS
Thousands of Indian ed-tech companies have come forward to offer live classes to students. Their mobile apps give tutorials for quizzes, computer courses, vocabulary learning, crosswords, general knowledge and extracurricular activities such as painting, music, dance and singing.
Proctur, a startup that empowers tutors, teachers and trainers by growing their teaching practices with innovative digital solutions, is conducting free live classes on its platform.
Nishant Agarwal, founder & CEO at Proctur, said, “Covid-19 is spreading like wildfire. Teachers, students and parents are concerned about the current situation and how they will tackle this issue,” he said.
TOLL AND DOC TIPS
Though children comprise only 2% of coronavirus patients, restrictions are impacting their mental and physical health.
Doctors say that abnormally excessive screen time and home isolation are triggering physical and psychological issues.
“A healthy body is very important and regular physical exercise is essential in the present circumstances,” said Dr Manish Mannan, Head, Paediatrics and Neonatology, Paras Hospital, Gurugram.
“At home, skipping, treadmill, sit-ups, push-ups, jumping and dancing can be done depending on the age and ability of the child,” he added.
“It is a good idea if parents and kids do it together. It would be fun time for the family. This will ensure the body is healthy and keep depression away,” Mannan said.
Other issues include dryness in eyes and impact on spine structure.
“Wrong body postures and long screen time affect spine and lower back apart from shoulders. Children should avoid constant screen time and parents must make time for enjoyable games, and playful activities so there is no stress,” said Dr Manoj Sharma, Orthopaedic Surgeon at Apollo Hospital.
Agrees Dr Navin Sakhuja, a senior ophthalmologist in Delhi. “Excessive screen time causes dryness in eyes and muscle weakness. Partial hypnotic state reduces the blink rate across all age groups. This leads to dryness manifesting into irritation and burning eyes.”
Children aged two to three years, who spend more than three hours a day on tablets and televisions, grow up to be less physically active at age 5.5 years, compared to those who used screens for an hour or less each day, says a new study published in science journal The Lancet.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified addiction to digital and video gaming as a mental health disorder.
While families are spending more time together than usual, children restricted indoors for long can begin to suffer from mental health issues as well, experts said. Dr Samir Parikh, a psychiatrist at Fortis Healthcare, suggested “playful activities” beyond screen time. “Children need stimulation.
Parents need to add physical activity and board games with fun elements. Children need to be kept positive and have a routine. Some online classes help in maintaining a routine, by staying connected with teachers and friends,” he said.
CRIPPLING TECH DIVIDE
But most of 16 lakh kids in government and MCD schools in Delhi don’t have the privilege of access to cellphones, Internet and laptops, unlike those in private schools, though the work is assigned on email and WhatsApp.
“We receive notes on our phones but they can’t be printed. Because we do not have a printer and cyber cafes are closed because of the lockdown,” said Deepak, father of a 13-year-old.
Many teachers are also not even able to inform students of online classes due to a lack of digital means. Online education is also a distant dream for those who have no access to android phones as they are not able to download videos due to poor 2G Internet speed. “We don’t have a laptop. And due to poor Internet speed, we are unable to download videos on our phones,” said Chhaya, the mother of a fifth grader.
GOVT STEPS IN
The Delhi government has announced its collaboration with Khan Academy to offer specially curated Maths content to the three lakh Class 9 students across the Delhi government schools. Also around 1,000 teachers of government schools will be trained by Khan Academy via webinar.
“Last time we had seen the Board results and noticed that only 71 per cent of our students pass in Maths in comparison to subjects such as social sciences and languages for which we generally have a 97 per cent passing results,” said Shailendra Sharma, advisor to Delhi Education Minister, Manish Sisodia.
For students in smaller grades – KG to Class 8 – the Delhi government is sending out daily text messages with general activities to 5,71,661 parents of KG to class 8th students. A daily SMS alert is also being sent to 12,14,049 parents of KG to class 12 kids for Happiness Class at home. Other than this, 5,18,626 parents of classes 3 to 8 kids are receiving alerts for Mission Buniyaad activities every alternate day.
SUMMER VACATION ANNOUNCED
The Delhi government has announced that summer holidays for government schools or those aided by it will begin from May 11 and will continue till June 30.
This was eagerly awaited since the Covid-19 lockdown has been extended thrice owing to rising coronavirus cases. Delhi schools have been closed since March 23.