“Mama, when will I get my new tiffin box?” A four-year-old Munnu has been asking this question ever since his nursery was shut following a nationwide shutdown declared on March 23, 2020 due to COVID-19 outbreak. His banker mother had promised to buy a new lunch box when the school re-opens.
Munnu is one among thousands of preschool-goers who were confined to their homes ever since the pandemic hit the world. The student community are now back to their schools and colleges now. However, there is not a word on tiny-tots. They have never won the attention of policymakers.
Aswathi Das Jayakumari, who has vast experience in Early Childhood Care and Education, said,. “Early childhood education is so crucial in child development as 90 percent of brain development happens before the age of 5 years.”
Aswathi, who has over 10 years of international experience, cited renowned scientist Albert Einstein, who said ‘Play is the highest form of research’, to substantiate her point.
“During the early years, children not only require letters, numbers, and spellings but also need personal, social, and emotional skills. For example, skills like sharing, taking turns, negotiations, developing resilience and empathy. Children will lack all these developments in online learning.”
Besides, play is the medium for a child to explore and develop new skills as well as connecting with the every day life which assures a holistic development as an individual.
The recently announced National Education Policy 2020, which calls for a ‘5+3+3+4’ school curricula and pedagogy structure, suggests digital content for children as early as three years. This simply means tomorrow’s children are bound to have more screen time.
Teachers fear it would affect the milestones in the early years of a child’s brain development, as well as socialisation and communication skills. In direct learning, presence of a sender and receiver is ensured in the learning process. But, in online education, children are at the receiving end constantly with no option to express and share their cognitive skills.
“I stopped sending my twins from going to a daycare centre when educational institutions were shut. The centre was of big help to me as I could leave my kids in safe hands. They were giving several life skill trainings, including toilet habits.
“My husband took a break from work, and now he is babysitting the kids. How long we have to go on like this, I don’t know.
“I am not compelling my children to attend online classes. They watch watching cartoon channels and other online material for children. They even surprise me with the way they play, storytelling, and imagination. They are twin, and are learning several skills unknowingly compared to children of their age.”
A teacher at a government higher secondary school, Thanima Subash, said even high schoolers faced the same situation. Face-to-face interaction and hands-on-experience are prerequisites not only for all school-going children, she added.
“I wonder why parents are not raising concern about this! As a teacher, I feel online education is like talking to walls. What’s fun in teaching without the presence of students.? Another danger in online education is the rise of mushrooming of online tuition centres.”
Teachers are also aware of the burden that awaits them in preparing them for examinations. However, they are much relieved to go back to school.
Nandini P.R, an English teacher at a government high school, said, “Personally speaking, sitting at home is the real burden. I love to go to school and teach. Google Meet is not enough to know how much students have learned.”
Nursery schools are also imparting online /distance education, and even conducting virtual tours to tiny-tots. It is insufficient in many ways.
Another major block in the development of preschool-goers is the divide in the educational standards. India’s internet use and penetration are far below global standards despite having a commendable mobile phone use. These are major issues faced by the education sector in the country. But, the big question is: how long our toddlers have to wait to renew their studies? That is yet to be known!,