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Go online but don’t go overboard — how Karnataka panel wants govt to regulate classes

On 15 June, Karnataka government tasked a 14-member panel with studying the feasibility of online classes amid the pandemic. The panel submitted its report Tuesday.

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Bengaluru: Thirty-minute sessions until Standard 5 and no longer than 45 minutes for students in classes above. A schedule that restricts online classes to five days a week. A blended approach that allows periodic face-to-face interaction between teachers and students in sanitised common areas like verandahs etc. 

A 14-member panel tasked by the Karnataka government with studying the feasibility of online classes has come up with a set of recommendations that boil down to one advice — the Covid-19 school closure is a good opportunity to incorporate digital tools into teaching but the online mode shouldn’t be overdone. 

The committee, led by renowned academician Prof. M.K. Sridhar, submitted its report to the Karnataka government Tuesday. The committee was handed the mandate on 15 June amid a churn in the state over the prospect of online classes, with the Covid-19 social-distancing advisories eating into the new academic year.

Although schools have been looking at online classes as an alternative, the state government cited their potential impact on mental health to bar digital lessons until Class 5 last month. 

The Sridhar panel, according to excerpts of its report accessed by ThePrint, has concluded that digital classes can be held at all levels, but in a balanced manner.

Dr K.G. Jagadeesha, the commissioner for public instruction in Karnataka, said it will be the state government’s decision to accept the report in totality or make some changes. 

“We will await the government’s decision and then my job will be to frame guidelines for the implementation,” he added.

State Education Minister Suresh Kumar told reporters Wednesday that they will study the recommendations, then hold discussions with stakeholders to arrive at a final decision.

Also Read: Why online classes may not be such a good idea after all, especially for kids

A big debate in Karnataka

Schools across India have been shut since mid-March in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. With no word yet on when schools can reopen, institutes have been counting on online lessons to make up for the lost time. 

However, the proposition is riddled with problems such as lack of access to internet and other requisite technology among some sections of society, as well as the perceived impact of prolonged screen time and online exposure on students’ mental and physical health.

In June, approached by the state government for advice, NIMHANS, the premier Bengaluru-based medical facility renowned for its mental health services and research, reportedly said online classes should not be held for children aged below six. 

On 15 June, the state government banned online classes up to Class 5, citing a report by NIMHANS (National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences) on the effects of online classes on young children.

Schools subsequently challenged the decision in the Karnataka High Court.

In court, the government reiterated its stand that they had banned online classes with the “health” of students in mind. On Wednesday, the high court stayed the government’s ban, describing it as a violation of students’ fundamental rights to life and education.

Education Minister Suresh Kumar said in a statement released on Facebook that it will decide its future course of action “after getting the order copy from the Hon’ble High Court of Karnataka”.

What the panel has recommended

The committee headed by Sridhar was also part of drafting the new National Education Policy (NEP), which is expected to bring in wide-ranging reforms in Indian education. Its report on online classes primarily focuses on a blended approach towards online lessons. Here are some of its recommendations:

  1. Live and pre-recorded classes can be held, but parental supervision required until Class 2. 
  2. Screen time for children of LKG-Class 5 should be restricted to two sessions no longer than 30 minutes each. 
  3. Online classes of no more than 45 minutes each for students in Class 6 and above, for a maximum of five days a week. Number of classes should be restricted to three daily for Class 6-8 and, four for 9-10. Presence of parents optional.
  4. Lessons should be interactive. 
  5. Non-screen time schedule must be followed two days a week, which means schools shouldn’t hold online classes for more than five days a week.
  6. The committee has also recommended that students should have access to recordings of live sessions with adequate cyber protection.
  7. Face-to-face interaction between teachers and students in sanitised common areas like verandahs, community halls, open spaces, etc. Staggered sessions can be held, with a limited number of students in each session, and combined activities organised.

The panel, members told ThePrint, took into consideration several aspects before devising their guidelines. 

Speaking to ThePrint, Niranjan Aradhya, a fellow at the Bengaluru-based Centre for Child and Law, National Law School India University, and a member of the panel, said the idea was to send a strong message that online education is not a substitute for physical lessons.

“We have made it clear that using technology in education is different from making technology itself as education. We want to demystify that,” he said. 

“This is only a kind of a temporary solution for the present crisis. We believe that this will also give the government an opportunity to think in the long term to use technology as part of education as a supplement to enrich the classroom process,” he added.

Another member of the panel, who spoke to ThePrint on the condition of anonymity, said they have provided a bouquet of recommendations on how to approach digital learning through direct and indirect teaching methods. “It is up to the government to to take a call,” the member added. 

Apart from Sridhar and Aradhya, members of the committee include Gururaj Karajagi of the Academy for Creative Teaching, Rishikesh B.S. of the School of Education at Azim Premji University, and representatives from the education department and private schools’ associations.

Also Read: No gadgets, no studies: What online classes mean for 16 lakh poor students in Delhi schools

‘No child should be denied education’

The panel has weighed in on concerns about limited access to technology among some sections, and stated that no student can be removed or denied education because of this. 

According to a survey conducted in May by the state department of public instruction on Karnataka students, 58 per cent of those in Class 1-5 were found to have access to internet connectivity or smartphones. The number was 56 per cent for students in Class 6-8, and 64 per cent for those in Class 9-10. 

Advising schools to tweak their syllabus to suit online education, the panel has also instructed them to frame an alternative syllabus, timetable and calendar for the academic year. 

Schools must ensure that learning objectives are made accessible to children, and no student should be at a disadvantage, the report states. 

“When technology is used, no child must be deprived of access to education – if a child, for whatever reason, is unable to access education through technology, the school should provide ways in which the key learning objectives of that session/module is accessible to the child,” the report adds.

Also Read: Covid pandemic has given the world a great online learning experiment


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