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Schools for the future

November 23, 2021
Children’s views on Online Education : How can schools serve their students better

The effort behind speaking to children of today’s online schooling system was to understand the pain points in the current education landscape.

Focus group discussion | 10 participants of the ages 10 - 15 | Medium - higher socio-economic background | Public, Private & Government Schools |

This article captures a day in the life of a child subjected to online learning. It understands the micro and macro implications on learning from digital inequities to cybersecurity, exposing the fault lines that have appeared from a hasty transitioning. In an education system pre consisting of weak links, online education promises to be sustainable only as a hybrid model.

Where Tech Need to Pull It’s Sock Up

Virtual schooling gives children the freedom and chance to function like a grown up. Taking the example of examinations, it puts to test ethics & principles by trusting students to be sincere in their submissions and take responsibility for their shortcomings. It removes the ability/necessity to micro-manage in the form of physical invigilation. With the internet serving as the new-age cheat sheet, ideas or rote learning are finally seeing their way out, with more emphasis on critical thinking and application based learning.

However, high dependancy on technology impedes the ability for students to apply creative thinking. It creates additional stress from unforeseeable trouble with uploading documents, adhering to time and getting disconnected during an exam. Reducing these elements of uncertainty on time based submissions and additional human support can foster critical thinking. Further, it creates discrimination based on a student’s previous academic image. This lack of a standardised process in fool proofing online examinations, creates discrepancies in trust with a targeted few students and parents. There is an expectation from students to act with honour and practice self-restrain.

While technology has made students more punctual, it’s taken a toll on group work for older kids.

Earlier, we were given time during school hours allocated by our teachers. Now we've to find a time when we all a re free, and that never happens. Someone is also late, or leaving early. - Aashitha Ravat, Grade 8

A messy challenge arriving at a time without compromises.

Further, technology has made learning impersonal. The ability to follow-up with a teacher post class for individual attention is replaced by a long, queued process making it difficult to continue this positive behaviour. A liberal outlook gives students the option to keep their video turned off, increasing the chances of distractions and creating indiscipline. The traditional practice of note taking, that would anchor students to core concepts and guide their understanding, is not split between digital and analogue. A rising trend in students having their notes written by parents or not written at all, removes the powerful impact for learning created by the repition / reinforcement through writing. This lack of a reference point, works against students looking for validation in their learning but pushes for their undivided attention in class.

With fixed timetables, it is imperative to have designated time to look away from devices. It impacts every sense of the child, from eyesights and posture to emotional wellbeing. Analogues activities work towards providing this.

We really wish all our teachers would make us play a 5-minute game before classes. Back to back classes make us feel drained. - Mihika Kaushik, Grade 10

Consequently, this draining of energy reduces participation as a whole. Lower class engagement causes demotivation on both ends. A high teacher to student ratio however is a deterrent in this matter. This high ratio requires the teacher to sustain participation among the bunch, whereas a lower ratio would lay the expectation on students to proactively participate. Technology hasn’t been an enabler of active participation, in fact it serves as a virtual wall to hide behind, shying away from interaction.

Having the entire class on one screen to say the least is chaotic. Ironically, students feel distanced from their teachers owing to the disturbance caused by cross-talk, parallel conversations, convenience of jumping tabs and the high tendency of diverging from topics. With incidences of virtual trespassing and trolling, all classes require password enabled / authentication systems for access to digital classrooms. To add to this, students physical environments have distractions as well, from pets to siblings - higher levels of tolerance and discipline becomes necessary. It exposes the need for structuring participation and dialogue, to optimise efficiency online.

Even with internet data available at an ever low today, technical issues eat out of class time. One student’s trouble takes over the class, becoming a collective issue. Sillier but highly relevant issues of bad UX also come into the picture, when ‘Mute’ and ‘Exit’ are placed so close together, that students often log themselves out by mistake, further adding to the list of inconveniences. If all this doesn’t make learning online sound challenging enough yet, extensions of broken voices & frozen screens are available as plug-ins to further disrupt a class.

Initially I kept leaving the class by mistake because the 2 red buttons to unmute and leave are next to each other! - Kimaya Dayakar, Grade 6

While physical sports isn’t bound by technology, the role of community plays a big part in ensuring play remains a part of daily life but important lessons on competitiveness and team work are compromised. It isn’t uncommon to see individual sports like online chess gaining popularity.

We are lucky to have friends in the building, but some of my friends haven't stepped out of their house in months. Their parents are very strict as well.- Niyati Gupta, Grade 8

Complementing core studies, are hobbies and cultural activities that provide a relief every now and then. Tactile and skill based activities can still flourish at an individual level but celebrations aren't quite the same. While online celebrations still cater to this need, it is limited as the real value is in high quality in-person interaction. Soft skills such a leadership remains unaffected. Online provides support for child leaders to take responsibility and initiative in a way that also gets documented.

Older kids but naturally have a different take on life skills and circle time. They yearn this non-screen time to balance the intensity that comes from increasing volumes of study. Where kids can inevitably use some help and advice is with essential lifestyle skills such as time management, productivity, routines, exercise & a healthy diet. With the loss of dear lunch time and recess, students struggle to maintain deep connections with friends when the alternative is a virtual click, making them lazy in their interactions. This distress in there social life, has far reaching consequences on their health and well-being. Addressing their relationship with their family and immediate surrounding is of utmost importance with this drastic shift. Similar to us adults, kids need a change of space, people and activities. With the stress on students to perform in 'crucial years', the burnout and anxiety induced from this expectation is overlooked.

I've started taking 10 minute walks around the building after lunch break. Something I never did before, but feel a real need to nowadays. - Mihika Kaushik, Grade 10

Counselling, for individuals and in groups is vital during the pandemic. Classmates need to feel a sense of unity and belonging, something tricky with a virtual setup.

Teachers can also aid in learning by developing a deep relationship at an individual level. Support from a teacher for both academic growth and personal growth can be of an esoteric nature.

Where Tech deserves a pat on the back

Tech removes the mundanity of repeated actions. Once an account, folder, system of submission, feedback mechanism is established, repeating actions is exponentially easier.It also tests kids on morals, providing a valuable test of integrity. Apart from academic testing, it can potentially build integrity in children at an early age. It has changed the perspective on learning and opened up a world of knowledge. In some sense, it makes books obsolete and places emphasis on experiential learning. Kids embrace learning to be life-long from everything around them. It blurs the boundary between school and life, making learning an everyday habit, a way of life. There's an openness, curiosity and willingness to learn as much from nature as the World Wide Web.

Tech has brought parents, guardians and teachers closer. Replacing the one off PTAs, with regular reflection and tracking, helps parents get a nuanced understanding and offer the right kind of help in both the emotional and physical departments.

It has cultivated a sense of conversational discipline and enhance communication skills. Features such as 'Raise a Hand' , 'Auto-queue' ensures they don't answer out of turn and actively listen to others contributions.Further, it has pushed children to pursue individual sports but collectively. Motivation comes easy when social fitness is at play. It has helped children realise their ability to pursue exercise individually by inherently developing a liking and habit to exercise without this support.Tech has redefined and opened up possibilities around hobbies. Traditional hobbies are being replaced with more progressive, relevant options in digital crafts, robotics etc.

In terms of growth - personalised learning paths, insight into learning styles, intricate feedback is made visible and accessible. It increases efficiency and reduces generalisation. It provides the flexibility necessary to enjoy learning.Online education requires students to use online collaboration tools, thereby making them more tech savvy and ready for an online professional life.

Cyber bullying is manageable with teachers having greater access and visibility on the platform unlike physical bullying that happens and nooks and corners of school building that often goes unidentified. Further, establish anti-bullying committees, providing access to help & counselling, placing laws for system intolerance towards cyber bullying can all be monitored and achieved online.

Students have the autonomy to design and organize their dashboards. More importantly, they have a one stop platform to access all their material as opposed splitting their books between school and home, a stressful everyday activity for both the mind and body.

I don't have to carry a heavy bag everyday and also remember which books to carry home to finish homework. This is so much better! - Harshitha Poojari, Grade 5
Ways to give your school an edge over the others

Interspacing assignments creates learning for life. Make learning difficult to include scenarios to apply critical thinking, creative thinking, computational thinking and other 21st century skills. Class timings should consider - nature of the subject, personality of the teacher, age bracket, screen time, time of day, frequency and homework. Electives however should be as a fun and experiment, with the idea of play for play, rather than play to learn. It's good for the to get range, providing a taste of what it might be like to be an engineer, designer, lawyer before we they have to make that decision is valuable in the long run .

Re-evaulate subjects to see if they're relevant today - Shouldn't Climate Education, Basic finance another everyday topics be a part? Alternating between subjects and practicing relaxed attention sparks creativity. Incentivize homework and give nudges to stay on track eg. 5 on-time submissions give you a day off. Bring language into the mainstream. Learning a new language helps kids see the world in a new while being culturally enriching. Introduce an apprenticeship model for every age group such that it puts them in a state of 'flow'. They'll thoroughly enjoy while maximising their learning.

Support children in being confident of their opinions, and accepting that learning is a 2 way street.Teachers are anchors for children in their learning, The value they provide and role they play is underestimated. Having genuine, unbiased teachers can have a big impact on shaping a child.

Check out Google Classroom which has Must-have features - Add files, privacy, security, individual IDs, teacher controls vs students controls eg. screen share, add people etc.

Play is essential to childhood. Schools can map Playgrounds over the city, and connect its students to engage them in regular play. Children need this sociality with a place for them to be mischievous and free from supervision. Retrofit schools to be universally designed, accessible to all.

To conclude, it is clear that Tech has its pros and cons. Tech is a powerful enabler in learning, but we must be aware of the relationship we share and evaluate our stance. In a tech driven world, it's imperative to understand the role it plays on our lives, where it can be substituted and where it shouldn't. Understanding the value it provides and if that is the best way to achieve the same value is a starting point in this journey.

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