Covid-19 lockdown: Amid e-learning push, parents wary as children’s screen time increases
Rishabh Saxena, a Class 9 student of a south Delhi school, wakes up around 7am and, an hour later, plonks himself in front of the computer. He is in front of the screen until noon, attending one online class after another. Every evening, Rishabh spends up to three hours more on the computer to complete his class assignments.
The daily routine of Shashwat Vinayak, a Class 10 student of another south Delhi school, isn’t much different. Face-to-face teaching, he says, helps students understand their lessons better, and is sorry that he and his peers have to spend so much time learning lessons online.
Rishabh and Shashwant can’t help it. The coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak shut down schools indefinitely before many completed their curriculums for the academic year, prompting them to start online lessons in a hurry. Parents are concerned that their children aren’t receiving in-depth education and are spending a little too long in front of the computer or mobile phone screen, questioning how much of a good thing is actually good.
Ekta Saxena, Rishabh’s mother, says her son’s generation anyway tends to be glued to multiple screens, and it isn’t clear how healthy it is for children to sit for so long in front of the computer daily. “Will such a lifestyle lead to lethargy setting in? We are absolutely concerned about what the long-term impact of this new kind of lifestyle and teaching can be,” she said.
Many parents are hoping that this is a temporary phenomenon that will fade with the lifting of the lockdown and the reopening of schools. But some say that online education is set to become the new normal in a post-Covid world.
“Increased screen time can cause increased sedentary behaviour in children and teens, decreased metabolism, disturbance in sleep cycle, more distractibility and perhaps lower well- being,” said Dr Kanika Ahuja, who teaches psychology at Delhi’s Lady Shri Ram College. “The key question is how much is too much? We have no clear answers. There is an urgent need for research in India considering that a large part of education will be shifted online for at least 1-2 years.”
Over the past two decades, several studies have linked too much of screen time with social isolation and depression, but newer studies say the link is tenuous.
“The association we find between digital technology use and adolescent well-being is negative but small, explaining at most 0.4% of the variation in well-being. Taking the broader context of the data into account suggests that these effects are too small to warrant policy change,” according to a study on the association between adolescent well-being and digital technology use by researchers at the University of Oxford published in the journal, Nature Human Behaviour, in January 2019.
Rajesh Sagar, professor, department of psychiatry, All India Institute Of Medical Sciences-Delhi, said ideally children below two years of age should not be exposed to gadgets. “And children above two should not be staring at a computer screen for more than 30 minutes in one go,” he said, adding that they should take breaks every half-an-hour in case they need to sit longer.
PM Narendra Modi warned students against addiction to electronic gadgets earlier this year. In his Pareeksha pe Charcha (discussion on examinations) interaction with students in January, Modi said, “I’m all for using technology to advance our lives but let’s not allow ourselves to be enslaved by technology,” the PM said.
A senior official at the ministry of human resource development, said the online effort is meant to ensure that the academic calendar is rolled out and the school session remains on track. Based on feedback, the ministry will take steps to address any emerging concerns