Online classes could lead to fatigue, long term physiological problems, say expertsWhile different countries have started debating about its negative consequences, Nepal’s government is promoting virtual classes without looking into ways to deal with its downsides, they say.
Bipana Puri’s five-year-old daughter is a first grader at a Baneshwor-based private school, which has been conducting online classes since mid-April following the lockdown imposed to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.
The toddler attends three classes—45 minutes to one hour each—every day, except during official holidays. After the classes are over, she needs to work on her homework and submit it through email. Only after the classes and homeworks are done, she gets to watch cartoons on a smartphone or TV, her favourite pastime during the lockdown.
“I know long exposure to the screen is not good for children, but I have no other option,” Puri told the Post. With no signs of schools reopening anytime soon, she is concerned that her daughter may have to rely on video-conferencing for her study for a long time.
Private schools and colleges, mainly in the cities, have been conducting online classes which last up to five hours a day. Schools say that they have no other option but to teach through video conferencing until the spread of Covid-19 subsides and it's safe to resume classes.
After assessing that the resumption of schools and colleges is not possible in the near future, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology came up with its guidelines for virtual classes, set to come into force from Sunday. The guideline envisages classes online, and on television and radio to promote virtual learning. As television and radio don’t allow two-way communication between teachers and students, online classes have been seen as a more effective way of teaching.
Psychologists, however, caution that online classes also come with the potential to affect the well being of children. They said that while different countries have started debating about its negative consequences, Nepal’s government is promoting virtual classes without looking into ways to deal with its downsides.
Ganga Pathak, a professor of Psychology at Tri-Chandra College, said online classes could lead to “zoom fatigue”, mental exhaustion due to online video conferencing. It could lead to long-term psychological problems in the children. “Many schools are imposing online classes even for the five-six year-old children. This could lead to anxiety and degrade their interest towards studies in the long run,” she told the Post.
She said small children need a playful environment to learn, and that’s not possible through any virtual medium. “Even my graduate students complain about uneasiness and struggle concentrating during online classes, you can imagine the situation of the children,” she said.
Only on Thursday, the Indian State of Karnataka banned all online classes for students up to the fifth grade. According to local media reports, the decision came after the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, India, pointed out that virtual classes were not ideal for students below the age of six. It suggested that more than one hour of screen time for the children of that age group could have adverse psychological impacts.
Pathak said that many parents have been consulting her as their children have started getting irritated with online classes. “During a webinar, I had suggested to the education Secretary not to enforce virtual classes, especially on the small children. However, it was left unheard as the government came up with the guideline for it,” she said.
Private schools offering online classes have asked the government to accord formal recognition to it. In a demand paper to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence, Ishwar Pokharel, who is also the coordinator of the High-level Coordination Committee for Prevention and Control of Covid-19, six different associations of private education providers have asked the government to recognise virtual classes as formal learning.
The ministry, however, has been saying that virtual classes are just meant to keep the students engaged and cannot be recognised as formal learning. “The ministry has made it clear that virtual classes are just for keeping students engaged in learning, it cannot be taken as a replacement for formal schooling,” Education Minister Giriraj Mani Pokharel said in a webinar on Thursday.
Parents of schoolgoing children, however, say schools are treating online classes as formal learning so that they can charge them tuition fees for it. Ganga Mandal, father of a tenth grader who goes to the Jorpati-based Rims School, said the school pressed him to get a separate phone and an internet connection for his son. “My son is at home in Janakpur and now I have to get hima a new smartphone and an internet connection,” he told the Post. “I need around Rs 30,000 immediately for that. It is a huge sum of money for people like me.”