Unnatural times of the pandemic: How to correct for the unevenness of home based schooling

In the wake of the present pandemic there has been a significant and ongoing debate about, and within, the education system at its every level in efforts to continue education through online resources. In addition to the exchanges on schools’ charging of fees during the pandemic months, arguments have touched upon the acceptable number of screen hours for children, and the discrepancies engendered by the institution of online classes in a country where only a certain percentage of students have access to home computers and such other devices, or internet connectivity.

On the matter of unevenness or inconsistencies produced by the enforced shift to the system of online classes it is important to recognise, however, that it is not simply a question of access to resources that produces these discrepancies. Here there are circles within circles, and it may only be after the present lot of students return to their regular schooling that such discrepancies will really come to the fore.

Schools by their very definition are supposed to provide a uniform education to all students. A teacher in a classroom is assumed to impart teaching equally to all pupils though each student may imbibe and fare differently. And the existence of schools, their uniform curricula and overarching structures are expected to address imbalances that may exist vis-à-vis the students’ personal milieux. But what of a situation when home is the new school? And where the home impacts more than ever the learning and templates that are provided by the school?

It is not simply a question of economic inequities or of haves versus have-nots. It becomes a far more complex question of an unavoidable variable and uneven imbibing of education – a product of online instruction wherein students, and especially the younger ones, are given to being more dependent on parental interpretation and guidance in the absence of schools, and a limited access to teachers. In this context one has to keep in mind the guidelines issued by the central government regarding recommended screen time for online classes, with many schools now trying to adhere to more limited online class schedules.

While online classes are now recommended to function within limited time slots, the truth of the matter is that many schools (especially given the debate over payment versus non-payment of school fees) are doing their best to cover as much ground as possible so far as given syllabi for each class are concerned. Thereby pushing a more significant onus of a child’s instruction onto her parents. And yet, not every parent in every home may be competent enough to assist their ward through each and every subject.

Moreover, not every home instils the same levels of discipline or regularity in a child, as does a school regimen. The fallout is more unevenness within the same systems and the same schools. And there are bound to be more disparities in the students’ performance in their studies when the children do return to school, which might not be before the next year.

How then are schools going to deal with such inconsistencies that emerge over this year of home based schooling? Of uneven parental guidance, or the fact of younger children getting used to a continued parental presence or support during virtual school time? Perhaps schools would do best to focus on a more learning based and less performance oriented structure of schooling during the pandemic months. Wherein, education continues but with less of an eye on targets and their completion.

In the year after the pandemic schools will have to revisit and recap, in some part at least, the instruction undertaken during the pandemic months and allow their students some leeway to accommodate, and adjust the gaps that may have crept in. School and parental cooperation is highly desirable in the coming months, and when children do return to schools. What we need is for schools, teachers and parents to work together in helping students recoup at each level.

The idea is not to treat them with kid gloves. Rather it is to look over and above syllabi and targets, and focus on allowing the children to regroup and resettle after the unnatural times of the pandemic.