Mumbai: Parents worried over expensive gadgets, too much screen time as online schooling set to begin

Updated: 08 June, 2020 07:37 IST | Pallavi Smart | Mumbai

With schools all set to begin online classes for new academic year this week, parents wonder if there are more concerns around the system than solutions

Bharti, a house help, whose daughter Roshni's phone was funded by the families she works for
Bharti, a house help, whose daughter Roshni's phone was funded by the families she works for

Virtual schooling is turning out to be a huge cause of concern for parents from across sections of the society. Several schools in the city have already started their new academic year online and many others are ready to implement it this month. However, parents are of the opinion that there are a number of issues with the process.

While some can't afford the technology required to support such learning, others are worried about excessive Internet exposure and too much screen time. Some are also complaining about the soaring prices of electronic gadgets.

Affordability, an issue
Shivaji Nagar resident Bharti Makwana, who works as a sweeper and maid at a housing society, was under a lot of stress when her daughter Roshni's school announced that they would start virtual classes. "Earlier we had one smartphone at home which my brother-in-law used, but he has returned to his hometown. Roshni is now in Std X and she can't afford to lose out on her studies this year. Hence, I approached the society for help," said Makwana.

A man and his son walk home after collecting the year's academic books, at Kandivli, on Sunday. Pic/Satej Shinde
A man and his son walk home after collecting the year's academic books, at Kandivli, on Sunday. Pic/Satej Shinde

The residents of Saujanya Cooperative Housing Society helped raise money for her with which she bought a phone for Roshni.

Similarly, a mother of two from Kurar village said, "My son is in Std II while my daughter is studying in Std VII. Their school has decided to conduct classes through Google meet from the new academic year. We are currently going through a major financial crisis. Whatever little savings we have are for medical emergencies. We cannot afford to spend money on gadgets and the Internet. I prefer my children to stay home for a year if that is what is needed."

Too much confusion
While affordability of virtual schooling is a major issue, there are other problems parents and teachers are facing like two children in a house with similar school timings, small houses, presence of other family members and their constant movement across the house and logistics issues in case of teachers.

Anand Shirali, Andheri resident and Mitesh Mody, president of the All India Electronics Association
Anand Shirali, Andheri resident and Mitesh Mody, president of the All India Electronics Association

Andheri resident Anand Shirali explained, "There is a lot of confusion because this is new for everyone. Many parents are not that tech-savvy and all teachers are not well trained. Thankfully, I had a spare laptop at home and my wife and I are technologically sound. But there might be parents who would have to completely trust their children for use of such technology. Another problem is that the pop-ups and advertisements that come up during these online sessions might lead children to inappropriate sites. There is also a huge amount of exposure to the screen. My daughter sometimes complains of headache."

Expensive gadgets
Another Borivli resident said, "I visited a number of electronics shops to buy a tab for my child as online classes begin this week, but there was no stock. Finally, I got one at a shop, which was asking for much more than the MRP. Hence, I decided to wait till the stock gets replenished."

Speaking about this, Mitesh Mody, president of the All India Electronics Association, said, "There is a huge surge in demand as shops opened up this week. Sale of such items has also gone up by 25 per cent, especially for tabs, as not only are they cost-effective compared to laptops but also more user friendly than smartphones. As the COVID-19 situation has deeply affected the supply chain of electronic items, retailers have limited stock."

Experts speak
Ophthalmologist and eye surgeon Dr Shashi Kapoor, said, "More screen time does not harm a child more than an adult. But as they have to face it now, children need to take short breaks every hour, keep the screen at a good distance and ensure that the room is well lit."

Adding to this, consultant ophthalmologist at Sir H N Reliance Hospital, Dr. Pooja Deshmukh Chaturvedy said, "More than two hours of screen time affects anybody's eyes and so it is important to keep the screen at least at an arm's length. Moreover, the user need to follow the 20-20 rule, which means that after every 20 minutes they should take their eyes off the screen and look at some other object which is far away for 20 seconds. Also, if a child has been prescribed glasses, then he/she should wear it all the time."

While parents are struggling with issues, the state government is adamant on its stand that it is an option to continue academics amid lockdown adding that there cannot be any policy against it.

Commissioner of Education Vishal Solanki said, "Online learning should be done by schools where parents are willing and able to participate; no parent should be compelled. It is cleared under the Right to Education (RTE) Act. At the same time if any school is not doing online learning, no parent can pressure the school to do so. If there are specific cases we shall take actions. For those coming from underprivileged backgrounds, the government is designing a plan to use other platforms such as radio and television. Those can be used by schools too where students cannot participate in online learning. It is advised that once things are back to normal, all schools must provide additional time for extra coaching of those who might have missed on academics in this period."

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First Published: 08 June, 2020 07:00 IST

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