Are online classes being able to replace traditional classrooms?

With the rise of the pandemic and the extended lockdown, educational institutions have been prompted to shift towards online teaching. While initially digital classrooms seem to be a great alternative, whether it can successfully replace traditional classroom teaching is a question yet to be answered. Online teaching has also posed a threat to students belonging to the economically backward sections of the society. In a country like India, a great percentage of students do not have the access to such means or find it difficult to avail those options.

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According to survey findings there is a noticeable change in behavior and habits following the forced lockdown among the school goers. The sleep cycle and sleeping pattern of nearly 50 per cent children have been disturbed. It also indicates that 13 per cent of children have no regular pattern of sleeping. As a result, 67 per cent of parents think that their child’s screen time has gone up by at least 50 per cent during the lockdown. Increased screen time is known to severely affect concentration levels and leading to insomnia and other sleep disorders. The fear of pandemic has affected children in the worst way, nearly 40 per cent of the children who were surveyed, have been known to have mental health and unaddressed anxiety issues.

Schools and Colleges have set timetable in such a way so that there are breaks in between classes but because of network connectivity issues, students have started logging in earlier, which have lessened the break times. A teacher said in an interview, “In the first month, things were fine but with time students are losing interest and a kind of boredom is setting in even for the bright kids. For students in senior classes or those who will appear for board exams there is pressure from teachers and parents which is taxing.” After attending classes online, many students are also sitting for online tuition or extracurricular activity classes.

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Teachers of many schools have reported that students have become “more subdued” in class and their energy levels have decreased than before. According to psychiatrists and teachers, months of being inside and attending classes from within the screen has made students “fatigued” and “demotivated.” Even students who are academically strong have not been responding in class like before, teachers said. They have observed that the “naughty and mischievous” ones who would always be up to some mischief in classrooms have become “quiet and subdued” during online classes.

Psychiatrist Jai Ranjan Ram said to a newspaper, “Teachers are trying but online classes are not the same as what school was for children. No wonder they are feeling demotivated and fatigued. They have to attend continuous classes on the screen, at times not on laptops but on phones. All this while there is monotony of the same environment. It’s difficult to maintain a sense of well-being. In an online class the nuances of non-verbal communication are completely lost.”

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Sneha Priya S, Co-Founder & CEO of SP Robotic Works, has said, “Covid has proven to be the turnstile for education in India. The current situation has unearthed the immense potential of platforms with experiential and interactive learning which engage children in practical tasks and logical reasoning.”

In a physical classroom, students and teachers would even discuss things not related to academics and eagerly share their experiences. While there are downsides, there are also some positive aspects to it. Educational institutions have been closed for months at a stretch. With online classes there is the possibility to catch up with studies. Many students feel that at least in an online mode there is some form of interaction which helps them in these trying times. Online classes have made possible for students and teachers to get back to their routines within safe conditions. They also provide students with something to look forward to everyday. But amidst the current social conditions, students long to go back to their campuses. As we adjust to the ‘new normal’ many young people who are at the beginning of their career are also uncertain of what challenges they might face in the future.