Capping kids’ screen time

Norms for online classes fine, but poor stay out of reach

Capping kids’ screen time

Photo for representation only.

As the ever-rising tally of coronavirus cases casts a shadow on the reopening of schools and the possibility of children relying on online classes for an uncertain period increases, the HRD ministry’s guidelines for the digital mode of education are welcome. A standardised format capping the screen time for the young students and addressing other issues thrown up by the hasty transition from the physical classroom to the virtual space are the need of the hour. While adhering to the protocol, the schools need to regulate the online classes for optimal effect, given the disparity between pupils owing to their special needs and the digital divide. A tough call, indeed, requiring imaginative brainstorming.

When the pandemic-induced lockdown coincided with the onset of the new academic year, educators scrambled to compensate the schoolchildren for the disruption in their studies. Lessons began to be imparted through the digital medium in the confines of homes, sparking a debate on their cognitive impact, reach and access. Both the teacher and taught suddenly found themselves in the deep end of a new tech-based pedagogical mode. Irrespective of their expertise or equipment, they were overnight expected to adapt to imparting/ingesting knowledge via hi-tech Internet-powered computers, laptops, iPads and smartphones. Meeting this huge challenge meant digging deep into pockets and logging in unreasonably long and odd hours. Equally at sea, parents were willy-nilly made partners in this exercise. They had to not only provide costly gadgets to their wards — or, risk being left behind in this highly competitive zone of children securing up to 100 per cent marks — but also monitor their activities.

In the absence of any limit to the time the children were allowed to be online, their screen time shot up. This not only raised the spectre of the impressionable young minds digressing into the big, bad virtual world, but also endangered their health. Under the circumstances, the HRD norms on online instruction — notwithstanding its flaws — aim to best tide over the tough time till regular classes resume. However, they fail to tackle the niggling issue of reaching out to the poor children deprived of e-learning for want of necessary digital infrastructure. Denial of a level playing field goes against the right to education of the young children. If this gulf is not bridged, it is bound to have long-term socio-economic repercussions.

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