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New Delhi: Online lessons are helping educational institutions around India beat the Covid-19 lockdown to push ahead with the academic calendar. But the trend has raised many concerns among educational experts, including those at UNESCO and UNICEF. 

While some have expressed alarm about the potential dangers of internet exposure for young children, others say they are scared the digital shift may alienate economically disadvantaged students who don’t have access to the technology digital lessons require.

On 15 April, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which is engaged in humanitarian aid for young ones around the world, said “millions of children are at increased risk of harm as their lives move increasingly online during lockdown in the Covid-19 pandemic”. 

According to the statement, the internet exposure puts children at the risk of “online sexual exploitation and grooming, as predators look to exploit the Covid-19 pandemic”. 

Online grooming, a worrying product of the internet and social media age, involves predatory adults building online relationships with gullible children and tricking or pressuring them into sexual behaviour.

“Under the shadow of Covid-19, the lives of millions of children have temporarily shrunk to just their homes and their screens. We must help them navigate this new reality,” the statement quoted UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore as saying. 

In a report issued on 21 April, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), a multi-dimensional agency, highlighted another concern about the online shift. 

Giving a global perspective, UNESCO noted, “Half of the total number of learners — some 826 million (82.6 crore) students — kept out of the classroom by the Covid-19 pandemic, do not have access to a household computer and 43 per cent (706 million or 70.6 crore) have no internet at home, at a time when digitally-based distance learning is used to ensure educational continuity in the vast majority of countries.” 


Also Read: States free to declare early summer break for schools if they wish to, says HRD minister 


‘Many challenges’

The issues highlighted by the two UN agencies are echoed by teachers in India as well, some of whom have been pointing this out to the government from time to time. 

“After we received directions from Delhi University, we started teaching our students online, but there are many challenges with it,” said Manoj Kumar, who teaches at a Delhi University college.

“Students who are in Delhi and other cities with a good internet connection have been able to join in for the classes, but those who went back home to their villages or are in small towns struggle with the internet speed and are mostly unable to attend.” 

Kumar added that the disadvantage would prove particularly unwieldy when it’s exam time. 

“If the university plans to go for online exams, half the students who are in towns and villages of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar will fail for sure because they will not be able to connect,” he added. 

A teacher from Mahatma Gandhi Central University, a government institute at Motihari, Bihar, said, “How does the government expect us to teach students in rural areas through mobile and Zoom classes? We have decent network for a video call for a few minutes, but how will they continue a 40-minute class?” 

The teacher added that many of the students didn’t “have the kind of devices, laptops, smartphones… or money to keep the connection going”. “These are real challenges that hinder the process of online learning,” the teacher said. 

Speaking to ThePrint, some school teachers complained that they were themselves struggling to get a hang of the technology. 

“The school wants us to make PPTs (Powerpoint presentations), record video lectures, take online classes through different apps, but they do not offer any clear instructions as to how this should be done,” Kavita Reddy, a 63-year-old who teaches students at a private school in Hyderabad, said.  

“How do they expect a 60-plus teacher, not technically sound, to make this work?” 


Also Read: CM Adityanath’s 5-step plan for UP students under lockdown that other states can emulate


A new reality

The warnings come as the government itself tries to wade through the various challenges of the situation. Earlier this month, for example, the Ministry of Home Affairs flagged security concerns about the Zoom app for video conferencing, which emerged as the mainstay across India — for government meetings as well as private appointments and online lessons — in the early days of the lockdown. Many schools have since started looking for alternatives to keep the classes going. 

Schools and colleges across India have been shut since mid-March in order to enforce social distancing, which is considered the best bet for Covid-19 prevention in the absence of a vaccination.

With a nationwide lockdown in place until at least 3 May, physical classes are unlikely to resume in the coming days. To ensure the academic calendar doesn’t suffer much disruption on account of the lockdown, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) has been constantly asking schools and colleges to teach students through online classes while making several platforms available to aid the exercise. The National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) has also developed a curriculum to suit the online education pattern. 

The Covid-19 lockdown, which has spawned an unprecedented dependence on technology to keep operations running across different sectors, and its potential long-term impact, has become a subject of research back home too. 

The National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) has been studying the increased dependency on gadgets among adults and children amid the lockdown and monitoring its impact on mental health, sources in the institute told ThePrint. 

In its press release, the UNICEF has given a host of recommendations for governments, schools and parents to tackle the new reality. It has suggested that governments bolster core child protection services to make sure they remain open and active throughout the pandemic, while asking parents to ensure children’s devices have the latest software updates and antivirus programmes, among other things.

UNESCO, meanwhile, has advised “the use of community radio and television broadcasts” as alternatives “to lessen already existing inequalities”. “These are solutions we are addressing with our Global Coalition partners,” UNESCO director general Audrey Azoulay said in the report.

The Indian government has been pushing for initiatives on the same lines by making lessons available on DTH platforms. Union Human Resource Development Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ told ThePrint in an interview this week that the government was also exploring the possibility of disseminating lessons through All India Radio.


Also Read: India’s VIP culture is on full display even in Modi’s ‘stringent’ lockdown


 

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15 Comments Share Your Views

15 COMMENTS

  1. Please understand most of the students like me are not interested in these online classes please stop conducting online classes

  2. I am not happy with the online classes. Please stop online classes. It destructs my mind and my father does had to buy a new smartphone for himself. Before we were having only one mobile and now we have 2 mobile. And it’s also bad. Please understand the disadvantages of online classes.
    Thank you

  3. Thanks for sharing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Online class for kids , dont know how much it going to help the children . Rather than benefits it is burden for parents and tiny brains of our children.
    Nice information You have shared with the community.

  4. One thing which I find missing in this article is about potential harm for students under age 10 about 5 to 7 hours of exposure
    to the computer digital screen. Is it not harmful if we expose their eyes for such a long time. School 4/6 hours + 2 hours of Classess ?

  5. It is too difficult to attend online classes. In a family four of them need device or gadget two adults work from home and for two children they need gadgets. Apart from this web camera ,more data for internet connection…already stressed with 50 percentage salary cutIn my children school for each 5 periods with 1 hour class So totally 10 hours for children and for adults nearly 10 hours. Instead of online class school can have online class in tv channels.

  6. Preprimary online class for kids , dont know how much it gng to help the children . Rather than benefits it is burden for parents and tiny brains of our children.

  7. Preprimary online classes uses dont know how much it gng to help the kids. Rather than benefits it is burden for parents and tiny brains of our children

  8. It will help school to collect their fees from parents nothing else. Any one can take screen shot / take pictures and misuse
    More over what is the status of govt school in kidsra

  9. Well, Indians are very innovative. Search on youtube for some curriculum videos, you will see the change. Many school teachers are making videos on youtube and sharing it with students as they cannot connect online. They are using platforms like WhatsApp, QuizNext, Brainly to connect with students and assess them, and helping in clearing doubts. Even though it still needs internet connection, but still can work with spotty and patchy networks.

  10. Since the govt is taking all the major decisions in all sectors of the economy they must device a common strategy for children .Its foolishness to give various gadgets to children .instead of individual school decision central govt must think of using tv and radio .. in Kerala they are using tv to provide classes ..Tv and radio can provide a democratic learning

  11. What about the millions who will get to continue interaction with the school and continue to learn. These are tremendous situations and this is possibly the better solution

  12. All three of my kids have some developmental issues and online classes have been a blessing. We can record sessions and rewatch them, I can tutor them and help them
    during classes for weaker subjects and stay on top of homework since they have trouble get it all down cause the teacher goes too fast. So this format has worked wonders for a lot of parents who are getting a first-hand look at what really goes on in class.

  13. It is True that Children are prone to Sexual Exploitation.
    Every one is not Familiar with Theese Modern Gadg?ets.
    PERTICULARLY Roral and Proor Children WILL SUFFER A LOT.Ot Wil Be BETTER TO PROVIDE LESSONS ON TELEVISION THAN RADIO , TV WILL PROVIDE AUDIO VISUAL EFFECT OF LEARNING ON CHILDREN.
    Let us Pray GOD NEVER TO DENY EDUCATIONAL FACILITIES TO ANY CHILD IN THE WORLD.
    With best wishes for betterment always,
    Yours sincerely,
    SHIVA KUMAR.T.N. B.Sc.L.L.B.A.M.I.B.M.
    DIRECTOR
    YOGAVASISTHA SAMSODHANA KENDRA,
    No 13, 5th CROSS, NR COLONY , BANGALORE -570019
    Mobile/WhatsApp : 9483271683

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