Why Pulling Children Out of E-Classes May Cause Irreversible Loss

For every 8 weeks of school shutdowns, children in primary schools could lose up to 4 weeks of learning.

4 min read
Hindi Female

The coronavirus pandemic is indeed disrupting nearly every aspect of children’s lives – their health, development, learning, behaviour, their families’ economic security and their mental health.

Education has been hit particularly hard with 1.53 billion learners out of school and 184 country-wide school closures, impacting 87.6% of the world’s total enrolled learners.

It is now clearly emerging that the COVID-19-induced disruption to schooling will have learning gaps in children and for most children this gap will persist through their lifetimes.

A tiny minority of children are fortunate to continue their learning experience through online learning. While online learning may not be a perfect substitute for physical classrooms, it is still the optimum solution in these unprecedented times.

One of the pertinent questions that emerges from parents is on the impact of screen time. Some parents, especially of primary school children, are skeptical of online learning and want to discontinue online education, and thus are considering taking a gap year.


Learning Break More Detrimental Than Imagined

Irrespective of the quality of learning through online medium, discontinuing school for a year may not be a solution. The Brookings Institute had done some interesting study on learning levels after long summer vacations.

Broadly, for every 8 weeks of school shutdowns, children, especially in primary schools, stand to lose up to 4 weeks of learning. Often, this 4 week of learning is not bridged when the school reopens.

A longer shutdown of schools during COVID has graver impact. One UNICEF study has indicated that children with no learning support during the coronavirus pandemic would experience upto a year of learning loss.

Thus, letting students not attend online classes is not an option our children can afford. Research has indicated that even a simple weekly text messages to parents on reading texts has reduced the loss of reading levels in children. Thus, a well-curated online programme can do wonders in these challenging times.

The field of Neuroscience also throws several indicators on the need for continuing learning support for young children. We know that 90% of our brains is developed by age 6 and our brain is racing against a biological clock.

The Early Years

Our brains have to receive consistent learning stimuli before the window of ‘critical period’ closes. Language, for example, is best developed before age 6. After which, it gets perennially difficult to learn a language leading to compromised academic and workforce skills.

Another fundamental capacity our children’s brains is the capacity to stick to a day routine and discipline. Children grow up to be confident learners if they experience day order and predictability.

Lastly, children need to interact socially, not just to develop social neurons and emotional quotient (which again is best developed before age 6) but also to keep their cortisol (stress hormone) levels under check.

A well-curated online programme would ensure the above for our children. It could just be the only stable experience in an otherwise unpredictable and chaotic time.


Screening Screen Time

A legitimate fear is the fear of screen time and its impact on children’s mental and physical health. Much of the literature on screen time emerged during the television era where screen time was passive one-way consumption; unlike a multimodal way of interactive consumption in the internet era.

Thus, much of this fear is just phobia with very little science to back it. Pediatricians and cognitive neuroscientists today concur that there is a need to differentiate between good screen time and bad screen time.

Dr Michael Rich from Harvard Medical School says that it is not the screen time that matters but the content that is consumed and the context of it that affects one’s well-being. Therefore, it is imperative to make a distinction between good and bad screen time.

Screen times that are passive (like watching YouTube Cartoons or binge-watching a Netflix series) are harmful when done for long hours. Also, screen times that are fast-paced with a little too bright moving parts, as seen in many video or mobile games, are harmful to children.

But more than the impact of the screen time, it is the content consumed through the screen that has an impact on children. Movies or games that promote aggression, violence or any socially unethical behaviours may normalise such behaviour in children.

But screen times that are interactive, sets a learning goal and are purposefully slow are not just effective but also necessary.

A productive screen time would allow personalised learning, self-directed, and group interaction as against media for just passive consumption or for soothing. Multiple pieces of research suggest that screen time when paired with high-quality instructional practices and carefully planned lessons is good for students.

The World Health Organization and American Academy of pediatricians have provided guidelines on the quantum of screen time every day. The consensus seems to be that 1 to 1.5 hours for primary school, 2 to 3 hours for middle school and 3 to 4 hours for high school is alright for children if this screen time is interspersed with peer interaction, self-study and short breaks for the eye.

The most effective models of virtual school have a carefully considered healthy and balanced amount of offline and online learning time. This use of learning time will include some synchronous learning with real-time conferencing with teachers and classmates. It will also include and be balanced with significant blocks of asynchronous learning and opportunities to work offline and unplugged.

( Vishnu Karthik is the Director and CEO of Xperiential learning systems. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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