Vijay Garg

Social and emotional development of children not happening due to virtual education

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The majority of Indians do not have computers and their only means of access to virtual education are mobile phones. Due to the loss of employment and a huge reduction in income during the lockdown, there is a large section that are unable to even buy data to connect their mobile phones to the Internet.

During the pandemic, all educational institutions including schools were closed under a centralized policy across the country. Now, even after being exempted from a complete ban in all areas, special precaution is being taken in opening schools. While this may be appropriate from the point of view of controlling the epidemic, this school closure has widened the already existing educational gap between the privileged and marginalized children. On the one hand, the organization of online classes as an alternative to traditional classroom teaching is being promoted as a big step towards the democratization of education, but on the other hand, it has created a new frontier for the majority of Dalit-tribal children in the way of access to education. A digital barrier has been created. There is no doubt that the teaching process has changed a lot with computers and mobile phones replacing chalk and blackboards. But it is also important to consider what this change means for students from disadvantaged sections and vulnerable backgrounds.

It is not that the children of the affluent class who have access to computers and the internet are not being negatively affected by this education conducted through virtual mediums. It has been proved by many studies that virtual education cannot be a substitute for traditional schooling. On the one hand, school education is absolutely necessary for the all-round development of the student, on the other hand, the level of understanding of students studying through online classes has also been found to be less than the students who sit directly in front of the teacher in the class. Clearly, technology is only a helper at its best. It cannot complement classroom teaching. It is also important to note that effective use of digital media in school education is possible only in the actual teaching room. Today every child is not able to perform their potential properly due to school closure.

In view of the socio-human dimensions of education, distance virtual education has pushed the original meaning of education into the background. In the name of virtual learning, we are experimenting with children as if they are empty vessels to be filled with information and facts. It has been seen in online classes that the practical aspect of education also remains neglected. We fail to pay the required attention to the social and emotional development of children. A general principle of teaching is that children learn by imitating others. In the classroom, the teacher provides an environment in which the child can easily play and playthings in his mind by connecting with classmates. Educational experiences of the Korana era show that even the simple task of interconnected learning is not accomplished in internet-based virtual classrooms.

While virtual classes have been found to be ineffective in the poor student section of government schools deprived of mobiles and computers and proper availability of internet in remote tribal areas has rendered them meaningless, some children from affluent families use gadgets like smartphones and laptops. Have become more dependent than necessary. This is also affecting their health adversely.  Such children who spend too much time on the screen do not have the expected physical-social development. It is clear that in this era of the epidemic, technology has qualitatively increased educational inequality. Today, the classification of tech-rich and tech-poor people on the lines of rich and poor in India also cannot be ignored.

Figures from the seventy-fifth round of the National Sample Survey Office confirm this gap. According to these figures, less than five percent of rural households in rural areas have computers, while in urban areas this figure hardly touches twenty-five percent. Obviously, the majority of Indians do not have computers and their only means of access to virtual education is through mobile phones. Due to the loss of employment and a huge reduction in income during the lockdown, there is a large section that are unable to buy data for the internet on their mobile phones. Barring a few states like Kerala, work is also often not being done to ensure the availability of basic digital resources for online education for poor children.

Along with the period of unemployment and displacement during the pandemic period, the number of children dropping out in the middle also increased. It should not be forgotten that schools do not just provide education, but they also act as a protective shield for children whose family and social environment is unsafe for them. The implication of school closure is to take away that shield for these children. Trapped in dire poverty, their parents can push them to become domestic servants or farm laborers for additional income. The missing school also puts them at risk of getting caught in the quagmire of child marriage and child trafficking.

Now that schools are slowly opening in the country, special efforts need to be made to bridge the educational gap created during the school closure. As such, the exercise of completing the syllabus and conducting examinations will not yield the expected results. There is an urgent need to take immediate steps towards the adjustment of the curriculum by assessing the damage done subject-wise.  Continuous and comprehensive evaluation has to be encouraged at various levels in schools. There should be an assessment of what the children have learned so far and where they are facing problems. Teachers should be given exemption in this work.

Now is the time to implement pending evaluation reforms. In view of the possibility of the third wave of Corona, special steps need to be taken in the field of school education, so that the children who have dropped out can be brought back to school so that further studies are not interrupted. Developing educational materials for self-study and distributing them among students can be a major initiative in this direction. Children can use it even when the school is closed. Distribution of computers etc. with free internet and training for their use is also required.

But any change and reform in the direction of school education is not possible unless we accept the fact that the pandemic has had a very negative impact on school education. We must first recognize that this has pushed marginalized children so far from their fellow classmates that it may no longer be possible for them to match. If we do not start working towards bridging this educational gap in a planned manner, then this gap will keep on increasing.

The author is a retired principal and an educationist.

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