The playgroup of a three-year-old boy in Ahmedabad, having been shifted online, is nothing short of a nightmare for the child’s mother. The boy was registered at Tapovan pre-nursery classes in Dharnidhar area, which began online sessions from June 1. “This is like an examination for us. A child who has never seen a school, or knows what teachers, classmates and friends are, has to experience the first steps towards formal schooling, virtually,” she said.
“It is very difficult to keep the child engrossed on the screen for long. I have to lure him with his favourite food to get him to focus on his class whenever he loses interest. When this trick fails, I take the lessons myself and teach him later,” the mother told this newspaper.
On Monday, a public interest litigation (PIL) filed at the Gujarat High Court (HC), seeking a ban on online classes for children aged between 18 months and six years, was taken up by a division bench. The petitioner, a 30-year-old resident of Ahmedabad, stated that following the lockdown easing, several playgroups and kindergarten schools “are forcing parents to take the classes for the term of June 2020 online”. He further submitted that parents have been directed by these playgroups to sit with their toddlers in front of a computer or laptop for an hour or more everyday.
The bench kept the matter to be tagged with the PIL pertaining to other Covid-19 matters, which will be heard on July 17.
While older children are learning to accept virtual classrooms, it is the parents of children enrolled in pre-primary classes who are finding it difficult to adjust to the new norm. They feel the burden has shifted from teachers over to them.
The parent that this paper spoke to said that earlier, their involvement was limited to dropping and picking up their children, but it has now extended to accompanying the child throughout the “class”.
“In addition to keeping my daughter occupied, I have to sit with her throughout the session of 45 minutes, taking notes of what is being taught. Although the teachers make efforts to keep them engrossed with surprise elements such as toys, rhymes and song videos, how can one force such a small child to sit in front of the screen for long?” asks another mother of a two-year-old girl enrolled in the playgroup at Satellite School for Children.
Although schools have restricted the time limit of online classes, a section of parents feel screen time for such young children is doing more harm than good.
“For the first two weeks, the classes were for five days a week but when the parents complained that these are more binding on parents, especially where both the parents are working, the school also declared Wednesdays as a holiday starting this week,” said another parent whose child is also studying at Tapovan preschool.
“Since my husband is in the construction business, which is yet to pick up after the lockdown, we can afford sparing time for our four-and-a-half-year old daughter’s two online sessions everyday. If we both had jobs, one of us would have to either leave it or drop the idea of enrolling our daughter to school this year,” said an IT professional whose daughter is in junior kindergarten at Bodakdev School for Children.
Arpit Shah, trustee at Tapovan preschool that has nearly 300 children enrolled at four branches across the city, said, “We have developed our own content, a mix of entertainment and education, with interactive sessions and home assignments to overcome some of the issues.”
“Our first aim is to set up a routine and then work slowly towards increasing the screen time or activities. Everyone has slowly learnt to adopt it. Even those who were not well-equipped with computer skills or have internet connectivity issues are learning to overcome it,” said Manan Choksi, executive director of Udgam Consultancy, that runs Bodakdev School for Children and Satellite School.
A majority of schools are using platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Google Classrooms, while some private schools have initiated a mix of video calls and storytelling sessions by teachers, parents and even grandparents.
“We are not calling it online teaching but student-teacher engagement for pre-primary children, wherein teachers connect with students on a weekly basis. Worksheets were earlier shared with parents on a daily basis, but now that most of them have resumed work, it has been reduced to three-four times a week,” said Nirali Dagli, Principal of Calorx Public School, Ghatlodiya.
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