Online Classes -“BENEFICIAL OR HARMFUL”!

online education - beneficial or harmful
  • Blog By
    Dr. Shivkumar Chinnusamy
    Managing Director
    The Indian Public School
    June 27, 2020 | In Blog

There are about 3 billion people who are in lockdown or in restricted social access across the globe. Almost major populations of students are completely disconnected from their schools. In order to address this disconnect, we are now seeing schools across the globe adopting live online and recorded sessions for students in order to make sure children are meaningfully engaged, especially during this critical period of a pandemic where parents are unable to send their kids out to learn or play.

Is online education important?

We have to first understand and accept that online learning cannot replace classroom learning. It is just a substitute which schools adopt to engage students in learning at this particular crisis situation. But, it is certainly going to stay and is definitely going to support classroom learning in the future. Just think about how technology has influenced and supported the development of different areas of business and service. Healthcare is one major area where technology has really advanced and it has certainly helped in early diagnosis and high-precision treatment modalities. Similarly, keeping technology away from students’ learning options will definitely hamper their ability to connect to worldwide access of knowledge as well as the opportunity to construct new knowledge.

online class advantages

There are areas where online learning cannot simulate a real classroom experience. Those are,

  1. Lack of face-to-face interaction between students hamper collaborative learning and the fun element is missed out.
  2. Difficulty in developing strong connections between teacher and students.
  3. Challenges in facilitating group discussions.
  4. Assessments, feedbacks and grading are challenging, especially when machine graded.
  5. Difficult to provide individualized support for students who are lagging behind.
  6. Access to inappropriate content on the internet.
  7. Screen time that might affect physical and mental health.
  8. Immediate doubt clarification is not possible for recorded sessions.
  9. Students usually postpone recorded classes.

Online classes do have certain advantages over classroom learning. Those are,

  1. Children need not commute to school to and fro, which involves time and energy.
  2. Can access anytime, anywhere.
  3. Learn in a comfortable known backyard and in a non-distractive environment.
  4. Can go back and refer to the recorded sessions in case they did not understand a particular concept or it was a bit too fast to follow.
  5. Accompanied by various teaching aids that can make the sessions interesting and it is not just the boring lectures.
  6. Submitting assignments at their own pace and it certainly helps student take onus on a self-directed independent approach to learning.
  7. Getting comfortable with technology gives them access to unlimited resources that will help them build skills and new knowledge for their future.

Parents do understand that online education is the new norm and it is here to stay for sometime as a substitute to classroom learning and even after the commencement of schools, it will certainly act as a supplement to classroom learning.

What is the main concern now?

Parents are not worried too much about online learning and the problem is more to do with screen time and its effects on physical and mental health.

When it comes to screen time, WHO recommends a maximum of 1 hour screen time for 2 to 5-year-olds. But for older children, there is no specific time frame that is recommended and it is more about establishing rules for usage of technology. Too much of screen time can cause obesity, attention problems, sleep disturbances and behavioral issues. How much is too much? American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) says that not all screen times are created equal. Time spent on homework or other educational activities might not need to be restricted like the time spent on video games and movies. These video games and movies flood the brain with dopamine, a feel-good hormone. The problem with all this dopamine on a regular basis is that it gets worn out faster than it should. This means that the kids affected should work much harder to feel happy. Dopamine also helps improve focus, and faster depletion of dopamine causes decreased ability to focus thus leading to attention deficit and increased stress levels.

Parents need to be concerned if the screen time is on gaming, movies and social media because that will cause behavioral, sleep and attention problems. Similarly, parents should make sure children get adequate sleep and food, as well as be active and interact with family and friends. This can be achieved by establishing clear screen rules at home, especially switching off all screens at least a couple of hours before going to bed and closely monitoring content they see and encouraging screen breaks at regular intervals while learning. Screen during movies and games are fast moving, it causes increased strain to the eye, where as, screens during online classes are more static.

Parents certainly seem to be worried about increased screen time for students. A recent report in UK estimates that 3 to 4-year-olds spend about 3 hours a day on television and gadgets, 5 to7-year-olds spend close to 4 hours on it, 8 to 11-year-olds spend about 4.5 hours a day and teens up to 6.5 hours a day. We are also pretty sure that at most of our homes, children would have spent similar time watching television programmes, movies, social media and video games during this lockdown. Recent high-quality research has even stated that the impact of screen time on mental health and wellbeing is relatively small and other factors like lack of parental support and adverse childhood experiences have greater impact than the screen time. (https://www.unicef.org/globalinsight/stories/rethinking-screen-time-time-covid-19)

It is a new phase in the evolution of education. There is no need to panic or worry about your child’s health in general if you can limit other screen times apart from learning time. Similarly, schools should focus on providing screen breaks between sessions and a reasonable mix of offline work that the child can do at his/her convenient time thus limiting continuous screen time.

It is also understood that the parent’s work in monitoring the child has increased, but we have to understand that getting the child ready for school, dropping and picking them up, preparing early morning breakfast and lunch is not required now. Yes, parents need to monitor whether children are available actively online and also watching appropriate content by making regular visits to their workspace.

They also have to support in setting up an area for them to work without distraction. Similarly, there is a need to ensure the system, internet, desk, posture and light arrangements are sufficient in order to have uninterrupted access and to prevent strain to the eyes and body. This might be a one-time effort that the parent needs to make. For kids in lower primary, a few days of initial support in getting used to the features might be very much required.

It is the new norm of education and it is better to adapt. Even after normalcy, a lot of schools might even use the platforms that they have invested in for providing school assignments and after-school programmes. For parents who are already into homeschooling for their kids, online classes can provide suitable relevant education.

online learning - future of education

Online education is here to stay and will be the future of learning, if not already is. It brings great exposure and knowledge to your table from across the globe. The screen times are certainly going to come down after this global crisis. Children are naturally inclined towards technology and they would love to use it, and especially if it can be directed towards learning, it would make a real difference to the child’s learning experience. It would be wise for the school and parent not to say ‘NO’ to online education and instead work on screen time, screen breaks and setting screen rules.

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July 2022
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