Early childhood education needs a re-think

Maharashtra: Educators and parents unhappy about ban on online classes up to class 2

June 17, 2020

The Maharashtra state government on Monday declared reopening of all state board schools in July using online classes and digital platforms where physical classes cannot be held. The Maharashtra government has also enforced a complete ban on online classes up to class 2 including kindergarten students preferring they learn through educational content on television and radio instead. The move however, is being criticised by educators and parents alike who prefer continuing online classes even if for a limited period.

Unveiling a detailed standard operating procedure (SOP) outlining a schedule for both online and offline classes the government’s notification (dated June 15) permits one hour online classes for class 3-5, two hours for class 6 -8 students and a maximum of three hours screen time for class 9-12. Similarly, the government’s schedule for reintroduction of physical classes indicates holding sessions in two shifts and calling students on alternate days to avoid crowding in schools.

In the event that not a single case of COVID-19 has been reported in the area for a month before reopening of the schools, schools can reopen for class 9-12 in July, class 6-8 in August and class 3-5 in September. However, kindergartens to class 2 students have not only been left out of online teaching options but also any possible phase-wise reopening of physical classes.

Educators believe banning online for students up to class 2 of Maharashtra will be a setback for early childhood education which as research shows is critical to develop the brain (98 percent) within the first five years of age itself. Educators say the long break from school will result in substantial loss of academic as well as emotional, psychological, social and cognitive learning for the young. Ever since the lockdown due to the spread of COVID-19, several progressive schools have focused on the emotional and social well-being of the child. Adopting a ‘structured and holistic learning’ approach, these schools have created age appropriate video engagements and activity based learning which are conducted through their online classes. 

Voicing its concern, the Early Childhood Association (ECA) with a membership of 35,000 preschools across India and 9000 members from Maharashtra alone has appealed the state government to revoke the ban and instead issue guidelines regarding safe and age appropriate remote learning engagements for children up to class 2.

Pointing to the already thriving market of online tuition and apps for children, Swati Popat Vats, president, Early Childhood Association and the Association for Primary Education and Research’s social media messages appealed the state government saying, “Children will lose social-emotional bonding and screen time will increase on apps, YouTube. Please don’t ignore and undervalue the importance of early and primary years’ development. How is random engagement on TV better than guided fruitful engagement? Basically this will force parents to go for private online ‘tuition’ kind of a system. Why stop a school from doing what they are there for? Banning is not the solution, it brings more problems.”

Parents too worry the total lack of school time for their children would lead to more unmonitored screen time reversing the impact the government has doped for. “The current stay-at-home situation in Mumbai has made it difficult to keep children engaged without the help of digital gadgets. I would prefer my daughter be engaged productively attending the school’s online session even if it is for a short time. I am also worried, the long break from studies will mean there will be too much catching up to do when school reopens making it stressful for both my children and me,” says Nikhilesh Pandit whose daughter Sanika studies in class 2 at the Arya Gurukul School.  

Parents have applauded the pro-online learning stance taken by the Kerala government despite a fall in the number of COVID-19 positive cases in the state. Vinod Tiwari, parent of school-going boys, aged 4 and 6 points out, “On one hand the Right to Education (RTE) Act says children have the right to study since class I and yet the government is withholding this right through this ban.”

The education sector has already witnessed huge job losses as schools face loss of fees in the absence of regular school terms. Bharat Malik, founding member of the Independent English Schools Association (IESA) says, “Nearly, 60 percent of private schools are already in dire financial crisis since they aren’t allowed to charge full fees. In such a scenario, the latest move to ban digital classes for up to class 2 will mean more pre-primary and primary school teachers are likely to lose their jobs without having children to teach. Why didn’t the government take all stakeholders into confidence before taking such a drastic action, many schools are definitely going to approach the courts against the government’s decision.”

Also read: Maharashtra to reopen schools from July 1 for classes 9 to 12

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