“Clap yourself, Clap yourself!” When a tinny voice rang out through my laptop, my 4-year-old blinked. He couldn’t figure out what was going on (naturally). Online school for prep (pre-primary in Indian terms, a standard above nursery internationally) had begun. And so had a surreal experience in the vagaries of law, regulation and the pointlessness of adherence to a social system.
My son has been in online school for a second year. In effect, I have been in school. It has effectively reduced my ability to make a living for he is just four and needs someone to sit along. And it has increased my workload as mother several times over. We pay huge fees but have to do all the work. The media reported that the Supreme Court of India had passed an order asking schools to refund some percentage of admission fees. In effect, I haven’t seen that happen with most schools; and do note, this is the second year in a row of nothing changing about fee structures.
Noteworthy that my child is at an age when schooling means training in holding pencils (the pincer grip) and learning to write. It’s physical work for trained professionals. And all the allied work involved is also meant for teachers. But now we have to do it. It tests your patience, strains your relationship with your child and more importantly, points out to the gross inadequacies of my own self in stuff like handicrafts. And so the process is a bit like running your nails against a freshly painted wall – uncomfortable.
But besides my woes, it’s the sheer absurdity of putting toddlers and pre-primary children through online school that annoys me and makes me wonder if anyone, in government or in charge of children’s’ welfare, is even taking notice.
Look around you. Children don’t go to school till the ages of 6-7 to learn the letters or math. They go to school to be sociable. They make their first friends; have their first fights and engage in their first group activities. None of this has occurred for children below the ages of six because of the pandemic.
That online classes are cooking children’s eyes is not rocket science. I was quite surprised when an experienced eye specialist in Mumbai told me sagely, that South Asian children aren’t badly affected, as per ’emerging data’. Seemed to me that the all powerful early education lobby, like the Eye of Sauron, had found its way into ‘influence’ and creating ‘affluence’ for eye doctors too. Nothing is unimaginable in these absurd times. Of course genuine research confirms my worst fear. The race horse culture of Indian education has given our kids the worst eye sight issues in the world during the first lockdown. Read this
In the long run, we are looking at complex social behavioral challenges. Our children have had their first exposure to formal schooling through a screen. It’s a one-sided monologue, often peppered with technical glitches and grammatical errors. As parents gingerly take their children out to parks and play areas, I have noticed that most don’t interact with each other. They play by themselves, and might play alongside each other. But reaching out to communicate is not quite visible. Maybe mine has been an isolated experience. I am quite certain that other parents are facing a different but definite problem around their children communicating with others.
What I write here might be very specific to an Indian reality. We persisted with online school even if it makes zero sense for preschool kids and toddlers. Schools have not been made accountable. If one looks closely most work with 30-minute duration video calls and meetings; because it saves them the cost of having to acquire a paid subscription. In a pandemic, schools have blatantly profiteered with no checks and balances in place.
Having moved to a new city, when my son interviewed for his admissions he was rejected by a so-called prestigious school for ‘not thinking linearly’. What seems ridiculous to my logical mind, is the norm in formal Indian schooling. The process of vaccinating young kids is still going to take time. As I mull over the necessity of putting him through the online school system for a 3rd year, I won’t correct his teacher or give feedback on improvement of teaching for a second time. Since I am the one paying through my nose for this theatre of the absurd, I will leave it to these coveted institutions, with powerful people on their boards, to figure it out. And for someone in power to wake up and smell the coffee, or at least, watch it stew online!