Updated: June 17, 2020 7:10:02 pm
It is 10 am on a weekday in the Bhargav household, and everyone, including two-and-half-year-old Asmita, is busy. Rakesh Bhargav, an engineer, has moved to the balcony with his laptop, so daughter Asmita can have her online school lessons in the living room. His wife Smita is trying to coax Asmita to her chair.
Asmita sits down, watches her teacher wave props on the computer screen for a while, then walks off. “Come back. See, your friends are in the computer,” Smita calls. Asmita walks back, stares at the screen for a while. The teacher by now has whipped out an orange. She likes oranges. “Orange,” she tells her mom. “Orange,” she points back to the screen. “Yes, it is an orange. Please finish your class now,” says Smita. “Orange,” Asmita repeats, by now getting into the spirit of things. “ORANGE”, she yells. “ORRAAAANGE”.
Rakesh pokes his head inside. “Can she keep it down? I am working too.”
“No, she can’t! It is difficult enough to get her to pay attention, let her do what she wants,” says Smita. The exchange is long enough for Asmita to lose interest in her parents, and her classes. She slides off the chair and waddles away, a despairing Smita looking after her.
“This is how most mornings begin in our house,” says the 32-year-old HR professional from New Delhi. “I log in at 11:30 am, so the computer can be free for Asmita from 10 to 11. But I don’t see the point of making someone her age sit for online classes. She doesn’t have the attention span for that,” Smita says.
With regular classes unlikely to restart anytime soon, schools across the country have resorted to online lessons. But the parents of pre-schoolers and kindergarteners are a harried lot. From making sure at least one parent is free for the duration of the classes to risking damage to computers they need for office work to finishing assignments on time, many parents feel they are being put to too much trouble for relatively nothing.
Teachers, meanwhile, are at pains to make classes interesting for children, while contending with the awkwardness of having parents watch dramatised story-telling, dance classes, and other activities.
They don’t need no education?
“For me, the point of pre-school was that Shiven got to spend time with children his age. I can teach him the alphabet and numbers on my own. With online classes, the good part is gone, while I am left with tonnes of assignments,” says Priyanka Dubey, 30, a stay-at-home mom whose three-year-old is enrolled at a pre-school in Delhi’s Mayur Vihar. His classes are held on Microsoft Teams.
“Half the kids in his class are yawning, some nod off. Parents keep running in and out of the screen, catching straying children. One of his classes involved me putting flour in a plate and him tracing an ‘A’ in it with his fingers. All we could see on screen was flour flying about and moms close to tears. Also, some parents get competitive. It is frustrating when other kids answer questions and yours refuses to,” says Dubey.
“Every time I tell Ron it’s time for his classes, he says, ‘So sad, Baba’. I agree with him 100 per cent,” says Sabyasachi Dasgupta, a journalist. Ron is 5, and his classes, held on Cisco webex, are serious business. Apart from English, Hindi and Math, his Noida Extension school teaches him Life Skills and EVS. “The honest answer to why parents send toddlers to school is to make them someone else’s problem for a few hours. Now, because schools are charging us a fee, they have to be seen imparting some education. But I wish they would leave kids up to 5 years alone. The only benefit I can see from this is that he has some semblance of a routine.”
Mazia Khan, a PhD research scholar at Jamia Millia Islamia, agrees. Her 3-year-old, Ahmed, is enrolled at Foot Prints, a pre-school in Greater Noida.
“Initially, Ahmed had no idea why I wanted to watch alphabets on screen with him. He would keep suggesting better options on YouTube. Now, after almost a month, he has settled into the routine. He knows he has to get ready by a fixed time so he can sit for his classes, where he will get to see his teacher,” says Khan. Ahmed’s hour-long classes are held on Zoom.
Some parents are happy they are more involved in their children’s lessons now. Sweta Jha Mishra, whose 5-year-old is a student of Lexicon Kids in Pune, says: “Abheek is too young to tell me how his day in school was. Now, I can see first-hand how his classes are held, which teachers he likes, what are the teaching methods used.”
4G is not for all
Zoom and other video-tools are for places where parents are tech savvy and internet connections are reliable. In smaller towns, the teaching and learning are happening on WhatsApp.
“In our school, few children come from backgrounds where both parents own smartphones, or are comfortable with technology,” says Poonam Parhawk, a kindergarten teacher in DAV Public School, Jamshedpur, Jharkhand. “So I end up video-recording lessons and sending them on each class’s WhatsApp group. Kids make videos of their poem recitations etc. and send them to me, to which I then give individual feedback. For every assignment completed, a child gets a star against his name, which is shared on the WhatsApp group every Monday. This keeps kids, and parents, motivated enough to stay involved.”
However, this means longer working hours for the teachers. “Parents struggle in downloading video files on patchy internet connections. So I can’t set deadlines for assignments. I evaluate them at whatever hour they come to me,” says Usha, a teacher from Bhayandar near Mumbai.
There is also the challenge of making videos of yourself and sending them to hundreds of parents. Sangeeta Shrivastav, another teacher from DAV, says: “Dramatised storytelling in a class full of kids is one thing, recording that and putting it online quite another. Many teachers get uncomfortable. And not every teacher is conversant with technology. Putting together interesting videos and online lessons is something they are still learning. We had to take to digital teaching suddenly, it is not something we prepared for.”
Karnataka on Wednesday (June 10) stopped online classes from KG to Class 5, while Maharashtra is considering doing away with them till Class 2. In other states, both teachers and parents so far seem in for various kinds of education.
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