The Covid-19 pandemic has severely disrupted education of 1.6 billion children around the world. Never before have so many children been out of school at the same time. In India since early March education institutions from Kg-Ph D including the country’s 1.5 million schools, have been closed to arrest the spread of the invisible virus with the result that 256 million children have been out of school for almost four months. Even as state governments summon the political will and budgetary investment required to provide digital learning to children enroled in 1.2 million public schools, the majority of the country’s relatively privileged 375,000 private schools have made a quick switch to online learning to ensure learning continuity for children.
However this transition to online teaching-learning hasn’t been smooth. For the first time in a century, since the Spanish flu outbreak of 1918 disrupted education globally, the classroom has pervaded homes and parents are grappling with this sudden virtual intrusion. Impassioned debates are raging on social media networks, Whatsapp groups and Zoom meeting rooms about the efficacy of online learning, teacher preparedness, cyber safety, how much screen time is too much and the adverse effects of excessive digital gadgets usage on children’s physical and emotional well-being. Simultaneously, numerous parents associations are demanding school fees reduction/waivers citing the economic crisis and job losses triggered by the national lockdown. These demands and debates have reached government corridors with state governments rushing in with notifications and circulars directing private schools to waive/reduce school fees and imposing time limits for online classes’ delivery. Fortunately, in several states the courts have stayed many of these ill-considered government circulars.
In our cover story this month we shine a spotlight on the hot-button subject of online teaching-learning which is agitating parents’ and educators’ communities countrywide. With Covid-19 infection rates spiking to new levels every day, parents are beginning to adjust to the new reality of home-based online teaching-learning. A galaxy of educators and parenting experts interviewed for the story address their problems and apprehensions while advising them to take a collaborative rather than confrontational approach with schools and teachers, in the best interest of children.
Also check out our Adolescence story on ways and means parents can enable teens to cope with lockdown depression and Early Childhood feature on how (and why) parents can integrate massage into their infant’s daily routine. Moreover our highly-qualified columnists, the UK-based parenting expert Sue Atkins and well-known pediatrician Dr. Gita Mathai answer parents’ queries ranging from managing children during the lockdown and the efficacy of face masking against the coronavirus.