Pandemic vs Prolonged Screen Time: Parents, Teachers Caught in a Catch 22 Over Schools Reopening

·4-min read

New Delhi: Delhi resident Lalit Kumar, whose two children are admitted in different private schools, finds himself in a big dilemma when asked if he would want his kids to be sent back to schools once they reopen.

“It’s a choice between kuan and khai (well and moat), says Kumar, a tax consultant by profession.

His children have been at home since March 15 when the pandemic turned the world upside down. They now attend classes online. Kumar understands that if his children start to attend school in person, there will be a big risk of infection but what worries him is that they are now losing out on in-person learning experience and spend a lot of time staring at the computer screen, which eventually results in prolonged screen time and loss of eyesight. Both his children are bespectacled.

“Their eyesight was good but now they wear spectacles and often complain of headaches. But that doesn’t mean I want the in-person to start. This is a pandemic and we are surviving it,” he says.

Although the central government has issued guidelines for appropriate screen time, parents complain that in private schools children often remain in front of the phone from 8:00 am to 12:30 pm with 10 minute breaks in between.

According to the Pragyata Guidelines issued by the Centre and open for modification by state governments, “Schools will have to ensure a synchronised approach for the learner in a given grade. Each subject teacher cannot insist on holding online sessions for several hours a day.”

Schools have been encouraged to decide on the number of hours/ day of screen time for each level of schooling – lower primary, upper primary and secondary and senior secondary.

For students in class 1 till 8, the Union government guidelines suggested, “Online synchronous learning may be undertaken for not more than two sessions of 30-45 minutes each on the days the States/UTs decide to have online classes for primary sections.”

For students in class 9 till 12, it says, “Online synchronous learning may be undertaken for not more than four sessions of 30-45 minutes on each of the days as decided by States/UTs.”

New York’s elementary schools are set to reopen from December 7 for those whose parents agree to weekly testing. Back home, Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said that schools unlikely to open till the Covid-19 vaccine is available.

Aparajita Gautam, an activist associated with Delhi Parents Association, said, “After Unlock 4, the guidelines were issued for re-opening for senior classes, there were reports of a surge in Covid cases in some schools. We don’t have the same infrastructure as New York which is planning to reopen schools for the elementary level. The senior students who are attending in-person classes have tested positive and younger children pose more difficulty in management.”

In a notification issued on October 15, the Home Ministry left the matter of schools reopening on the states based on the pandemic situation locally. Haryana has extended the date for both private and government schools and is planning for a December 10 opening. The decision to reopen senior schools was deferred by Gujarat, Haryana and Mumbai, and now Assam is also reviewing its plan to reopen primary schools.

Andhra Pradesh reopened schools from November 2 for class 9 and 10, but it was found that 575 students and 829 teachers tested positive for Covid-19. According to the state officials it was not a big number as four lakh students attended schools and 1.11 lakh teachers joined. The percentage of infected cases was considered small.

A CBSE board teacher Zeenath in Andhra Pradesh said, “After there was a surge in cases reported from class ninth and tenth, the parents and teachers were worried about safety. Many objected to a lack of enough safeguards and testing. In this scenario, no government should think of reopening primary schools as they need more attention.”

On the other hand, for senior schools the Commissioner of School Education in Andhra Pradesh V Chinna Veerabhadrudu said the strength of those attending government schools is 60 per cent.

The students who are not attending in-person classes are following online classes. As Kumar said, “The future of our children depends on the policies the government takes in education. The schools should not mount the burden of result in these circumstances.”