KG kids homebound in first year of schooling, parents worriedUpdated: Jul 05, 2020 00:02 IST
It’s a gap year the parents hadn’t foreseen. Children set to enter kindergarten in 2020-21 are likely to lose a crucial year, the most crucial in the first decade of schooling.
This is the stage at which three- and four-year-olds typically learn to socialise with a large group of peers, spend hours away from home, write the alphabet, learn the numbers, sing rhymes in groups, play, fight and make up, share toys and snacks.
Classes are out of the question amid the Covid-19 pandemic and for this age group, remote learning is not as effective — their attention spans are short, the material calls for repetitive actions under direct supervision (how do you teach a child to write a through a computer screen?).
So instead of structured play and supervised study, your tots may be spending the year watching educational videos on laptops, either alone or with a parent. In states like Maharashtra, where online classes have been discontinued for levels below Class 2, some schools are offering edutainment sessions via Facebook Live, where adults tell the kids that A is for Apple and it’s bad to tell a lie.
“I encourage my child to attend because at least it’s something,” says the parent of a four-year-old who was supposed to start KG at Mumbai’s Villa Theresa School this month. “But they’re reciting the same nursery rhymes my daughter moved on from while in nursery, and that worries me. For her, A is now for Astronaut.”
Given the short attention spans and high degrees of restlessness, the videos and online lessons are also becoming hard for the children to focus on, and differentiate one from another.
“Initially, Advita adjusted and responded well. Her school did two 45-minute sessions with a 30-minute break in between. Activities ranged from colouring to storytelling sessions to learning the alphabet and numbers, with a little general knowledge and puzzle-solving thrown in. But after a while, not being able to go out and play made her irritable and restless,” says Manasvi Sareen, a software engineer from Delhi whose daughter is four.
With so many urban families opting for a single child — mainly so they can make the most of available resources, from time to paying attention to money — a key fallout of the disrupted year for kindergarteners will be the lack of opportunity to socialise.
Many parents are willing to juggle work, housework and schooling from home to help with the handwriting lessons, the learning of numbers and the storytelling, craft and puppetry sessions.
“Academics aren’t a core concern. But the social isolation makes me worry,” says Rupa Kujur from Delhi, mother of three-year-old Arhan. “Missing out on regular school life means the child is missing out on experiences which cannot be made up for in online sessions.”
Harsha Sambaraju, a techie in Hyderabad and father of three-year-old Himansh, worries too. “These early friendships, lunch-hour etiquette, little sports activities in the playground, these are key things my son is missing,” he says.
Everyone agrees that online education is not ideal for this age group, but most are in agreement that it must continue. “In the absence of precedents to follow, we have to make the most of the situation,” says Aashrita Dass, principal of La Martiniere Girls’ College, Lucknow.
Some schools are trying new kinds of activity-based learning. “We’re focusing on communication and gross motor skills. Teachers ask kids to count grains of dal and put them in a bowl and do gentle yoga sessions too,” says Divya Bhatia, principal of Amity International School in Saket, Delhi.
The connection with children must be maintained as best it can be, most educationists agree. “We’re looking at a gap of at least six months, during which we cannot let the children be deprived of all structured stimulation and connection,” says Swati Popat Vats, president of the Mumbai-based non-profit Early Childhood Association, “because then they would likely suffer an irreversible loss in terms of cognitive and socio-emotional development.”
Innovation will be key, if this is not to be a zero year for the children. Vasireddy Amarnath, who runs Slate, The School in Hyderabad, says they have introduced 30 different Montessori modules to their online learning syllabus to try and get the most out of this time of remote learning.
“The school will send videos of these teaching modules to parents, who can help their kids learn and practise them every day at a convenient time. Yes, this is not a replication of or substitute for the classroom. But it’s a chance to enhance learning capabilities,” Amarnath says.
Indranil Chakraborty from east Kolkata has a two-year-old son and he’s already worried he won’t be able to go to kindergarten next year, in 2021-22. “Even if the schools are reopened, it will be a risk. As of now my wife and I are trying to gauge from the internet how kindergarten schools teach through playing. We will try to create a similar atmosphere at home, but without other kids.”
Lucknow homemaker Varsha Singh is planning to keep her child out of nursery, regardless of what unfolds in the unlock schedules. But it worries her, she says, that her son could be five before he spends a day in a classroom.