New Delhi: When his online classes first began, Shaurya Vaidya, 7, of Gurgaon was thrilled — among other things, it gave him a chance to use the laptop as well as the mobile phone.
Eight months down the line, the thrill has diminished and he is daunted by the prospect of sitting in front of the laptop every morning.
Following the school routine — the morning school prayer, interaction between students and teachers — from the other side of a screen seems dull and all he wants is a chance to return to the campus.
Vaidya isn’t alone. Scores of parents and teachers from across India told ThePrint that there seems to be a fatigue setting in among students after taking online classes for months. Students, they say, want to go back to school, meet their friends, and play in the school playground. Parents of older students fear that their children are becoming asocial, and getting increasingly hooked to their gadgets, in the absence of face-to-face interactions.
However, while some states have decided to reopen schools, others are reluctant as the pandemic is yet to recede. Even in states where schools have been allowed to reopen, many parents are not convinced about sending their children out just yet. This means the wait for students to return to schools continues.
Teachers say they are trying to do all they can to dispel the sense of fatigue, by shifting the focus from textual lessons to activities. It’s an option that finds backing from child psychologists, who say it may be the best way to sustain online lessons until schools reopen.
Concerns vary with age
Talking about his son Shaurya, Sahil Vaidya, a marketing executive in Gurgaon, said, “I have seen my son’s excitement diminish over months… he no longer seems to want to attend online classes.
“When classes began initially, he used to be excited to be able to use the laptop and mobile phone for his studies, something that was earlier forbidden for him. But now he doesn’t want to do that anymore, he just wants to be able to go to school and meet his friends.”
Another parent, whose son studies in Class 3 at Delhi Public School, Noida, spoke of a similar experience. “Online lessons are getting too tiring for my child. He seems to have lost interest over time. All he keeps telling us is that he wants to go to school and be able to meet his friends,” the parent said. “We know that it’s not an option for now, especially for younger kids.”
While the younger ones are plain tired of online classes, the teenagers appear to be facing another problem, say parents.
Advait Kalra, whose 14-year-old daughter attends a private school in Gurgaon, said he’s worried online classes are making his daughter less social.
“My daughter is on her phone the entire day, whether she is attending classes or not… the lack of face-to-face interaction with her classmates and others is making her asocial. She’s on her phone even at the dinner table,” Kalra added.
Anita Pandey, a Jaipur-based parent of Class 9 student, said her daughter has “become a lot more introverted now”.
“She is tired of online classes, she wants to be able to go to school, so, she’s just gone into a shell and doesn’t talk much to the family members,” Pandey added.
Keran Bahadur, principal at Mhow-based Colonel’s Academy, said several parents have raised concerns about online classes.
“Many parents have been telling us that their kids are tired of online classes, but they themselves do not want to send them out, even for a single day. Our school is also not in favour of calling students back… the number of cases is still rising and the threat remains,” Bahadur added.
Alka Kapur, principal of Modern Public School at Delhi’s Shalimar Bagh, agreed.
“We have been getting constant feedback from parents about the fatigue that’s setting in, but we also know that the situation is not at all conducive to call kids back to school, especially in Delhi, where cases are going up everyday. Not just this, we are also battling very poor air quality here, hence it’s better that kids stay home,” she said.
“Parents also want that… Recently, we thought of calling one child every day to the school for a review, just a single child in the entire school, but, even then, parents did not agree to the idea,” she added.
How schools are trying to keep up the interest
After receiving such feedback from parents, some teachers say they have changed the way they teach young children.
A Mumbai-based teacher at a private school said, “I teach five-year-old children and it is very difficult to hook them. That’s why I have completely changed the way I teach. I make kids do activities a lot more, there are less textbook lessons and tests, and more activity-based learning so that they are engaged.”
Kapur of Modern School backed this approach, saying schools need to change the way of teaching to keep children engaged. “I agree that online classes are not as effective as face-to-face interaction, which is why we are trying to involve children in various activities. We involve them in regular sports activities, yoga and music. We have also developed a humanities curriculum and we are encouraging them to donate. For Diwali, we have asked them to make a joy box, where they donate.”
Such activities, she said, involve students to be engaged. “They have to decorate the joy box, (and) they will learn philanthropy this way.”
A similar tactic has been employed by Sunita Mishra, who teaches at a government middle school in Hyderabad.
“We tell students to be more involved with their parents and siblings at home and make a list of things to do for the day, like, cleaning your cupboard, helping your mother in the kitchen, and things like that,” she said. “We feel this will help them make up for the lack of social interaction.”
Pulkit Sharma, a clinical psychologist, said activity-based learning is a welcome way to sustain interest in online classes, adding that digital lessons are not the best thing to happen to children.
“Online learning is getting tiresome for children because school is not just about studies, it’s also about social interaction and activities, hanging out with friends. Children are missing out on all this currently, when they are stuck to a screen,” he added. “However, given that we do not have a choice right now, play way and activity-based learning is the best. Schools should have common online assemblies for children so that they can have more interaction, have more of music and yoga classes.”
Barring a two-month break from May to June, online classes have been going on since March, when schools and colleges across the country closed down due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) allowed schools to reopen in a graded manner from 15 October, in its Unlock guidelines issued 30 September. The ministry said online lessons should remain the preferred mode of teaching, and added that students unwilling to attend physical classes should be allowed to stick to online lessons. The final decision on reopening of schools was left to states and union territories.
So far, schools have re-opened in Uttar Pradesh (for Classes 9-12), Andhra Pradesh (Classes 9-12) and Assam (Class 6 onwards), but attendance remains thin. Maharashtra and Gujarat have announced the resumption of physical lessons for Classes 9-12 from 23 November.