Guidelines for limiting timings of online classes evoke mixed responses from schools

Hindustan Times, Gurugram | BySadia Akhtar, Gurugram
Jul 27, 2020 11:23 AM IST

As per the guidelines released in the second week of July, online classes for pre-primary students should not be for more than 30 minutes.

Aaryav Shukla, a four-year-old nursery student in a city-based school, attends online classes four days a week. The classes are two-hour-long with a small break in between. Aaryav’s mother, Sonu Singh, sits by his side throughout the class, coaxing the four-year-old to sit still and focus on the lessons being taught.

The ministry of human resources has recommended a cap on the screen time for students(Waseem Andrabi / Hindustan Times)
The ministry of human resources has recommended a cap on the screen time for students(Waseem Andrabi / Hindustan Times)

“Getting a three or four-year-old to pay attention to online classes for two hours is a tough task. None of the children in his class are able to concentrate for so long. Uninterrupted screen usage makes them restless and cranky. There is a small break in between classes but that doesn’t mean that the screen goes off. Teachers and students continue to remain logged in,” said Singh, who is among the scores of parents who are struggling to limit their children’s excessive exposure to digital devices during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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What government guidelines say

In response to the concerns, the ministry of human resources recently released guidelines meant to limit the time students spend in front of screens. The ministry has recommended a cap on the screen time for students. As per the guidelines released in the second week of July, online classes for pre-primary students should not be for more than 30 minutes. It further mentions that two online sessions of up to 30-45 minutes each should be conducted for classes 1 to 8 and four sessions for classes 9 to 12.

Most parents, however, said that schools were to yet to adopt the guidelines and were continuing with classes as before. “The guidelines say that online classes for nursery should not take place beyond 30 minutes but schools are following their own schedules. Since the guidelines are not mandatory, schools do not have an incentive to abide by them,” said Singh.

Schools, however, insist that children will get used to attending the classes with time. “Teachers tell us that children will adjust eventually like they do in physical classes. However, people fail to understand that there is a marked difference in the way a child perceives a physical class as compared to an online one,” said Singh.

Tripti Singh, whose children study in two different private schools in the city, said that back-to-back online classes were tiring for children. Her son, a Class-5 student, used to attend classes from 9am to 3pm until recently when the school reduced the timings by two hours. “It becomes tiresome for children to sit on the computer in the same position for hours at a stretch. My son used to have long duration classes which were recently readjusted after the school took cognisance of the guidelines,” said Singh.

Beyond the classes, children were also spending additional time in the completion of assignments and other school work, she said. “Anywhere between seven to eight hours on a daily basis go into classes and the resulting work assignments. Sometimes, I see my daughter working on collaborative art projects until 9 -10 at night. While it is educational, all activities take place via digital screens,” said Singh, adding that schools needed to revise their timings while taking cognizance of the new lived realities.

“Nowadays, screen time for children is already high. Even during the break, children are catching up with friends through these devices. With long-duration online classes, exposure to digital screens is further increased. Schools need to understand that,” said Singh.

Mixed reactions from schools

The guidelines seeking a reduction in online learning hours have elicited mixed reactions from private schools in the city. While some schools said that the guidelines would ensure that learning continues to take place as per a schedule, others said that restricting online classes without understanding the effect on learning continuity will have an adverse impact on students’ development in the long term.

Manit Jain, co-founder of Heritage Schools, said that while most of the guidelines were relevant, it was important to make a distinction between good and bad screen time. “Policymakers must recognise that productive screen time is not only desirable but is necessary in such times,” said Jain, adding that there would be a potential loss if learning were to remain interrupted for months in the current circumstances. “People are often casual about the need for learning and think that children can go without classes for some time. While screen time such as gaming or violent television is not healthy, online classes cannot be considered as bad screen time. It has to be seen as mentoring and teaching. Without 3-4 hours of instruction in the senior classes, children will not be able to handle independent tasks since they are not in the habit of doing so,” said Jain.

He also said that the government will have to recognise the fact there were many countries that continue to run their timetable as they did when they were running in the physical environment and international boards may not cut the syllabus in line with specific countries. “The IB and IGSCE are yet to modify the syllabus. International boards might not cut substantial portions of the syllabus. The government needs to think about this as well,” said Jain.

Aditi Misra, principal, Delhi Public School, Sector 45, said that the school had been following a pattern similar to the one advised by the human resources ministry since March itself. “We have been adopting a similar model for classes since the beginning. We routinely take surveys to factor in the concerns of students and parents and all stakeholders seem happy with the arrangement,” said Misra.

She said that concerns about completion of syllabus had been addressed by the CBSE, which had reduced the syllabus for children in the senior classes and underlined that completing a certain number of teachers’ hours and other formalities would be taken care of keeping in view the unprecedented circumstances. Schools need to have a minimum of 200 working days for classes one to five and 220 working days for upper primary classes in an academic year, as mandated by Section 19 of the Right To Education Act, 2009.

“The burden of syllabus has reduced somewhat. As far as other classes are concerned, we need to understand that everything has gone topsy-turvy and this is not a normal school year. CBSE is also reworking the syllabus. Things are bound to change,” said Misra.

Some schools fall in line

Kunal Bhadoo, director of Kunskapsskolan Schools, said that the school had introduced changes in its online class schedule based on feedback from parents and teachers. The school is trying to replicate the physical classes that used to take place in the school in a manner whereby the classes are a blend of screen time and self-directed learning.

“Parents were concerned about the fatigue that sets in during online sessions. After feedback, we planned and implemented the lessons in such a way that the effective screen time is curtailed. While the teacher shows the whiteboard or the screen for some time, children get the chance to put away the screen and complete the work in sheets or notebooks in a self-directed manner. Teachers are always available to solve the queries of students,” said Bhadoo. He added that the guidelines were more relevant to schools where teachers are relying on recorded videos that require students to stay glued in for long durations.

Aparna Erry, principal, DAV Public School, Sector 14, said that the guidelines were not binding and most schools were planning schedules keeping in mind the challenges of online classes. “Most schools are largely adopting schedules of a similar duration. At our school, the duration of sessions varies for students in different classes. For senior classes, we have classes for three to four hours but the schedule keeps changing in view of the syllabus,” said Erry.

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