Places of businesses, places of worship and café and restaurants were opened, borders between states opened and life once again looked a little familiar. Looks like Unlock 3 might see cinema halls and gyms re-open and international travel might open. Guess what will remain shut, SCHOOLS!! Looks like education will remain online.

I, just like you, bank on technology. Technology is interwoven into my existence; smartphone wakes me up in the morning, it also reminds me of important dates and events, I work online, I access information via technology, I use technology to entertain myself and due to the pandemic, I depend on technology to connect and socialise!

I also believe technology is pivotal for equitable education. Technology makes it possible for children with disabilities to access the curriculum, it allows them to participate in school life and it empowers them. When technology is used as a support to traditional education, children with disabilities thrive along with their peers. Of course, all children should have judicial exposure to technology, it is the 21st-century skill. COVID-19 saw a sudden flip from brick and mortar schools to the virtual classrooms. If it wasn’t for the virus, our educational institutes would have taken longer to explore technology. In these unprecedented times, technology has proven to be the biggest boon.

Yet, this buzz around new normal and future of education is online doesn’t resonate with me. The general belief that online education will do and there is no need to re-open schools yet, is naive. Plenty has been written on how ready are we as a nation to take education online. Before we start advocating and promoting online education in our country we need to reflect on,

  • Infrastructure – Even in this day and age, network connectivity and electricity are elusive in certain parts of our country. These two things are the backbone of technology-based learning.
  • Inequality – Most children in our country don’t have access to technological tools such as laptops and smartphones. Can we afford to leave a large section of the society behind and just provide e-learning to the privileged few? The longer the brick and mortar schools remain shut, the bigger the number of school dropouts from the underprivileged families.
  • A number of gadgets – In a family where there are two, three, or more children, how many smartphones or laptops will be required to meet the online educational needs of all? How many families in our country can afford to buy one forget multiple computers/laptops/smartphones?
  • E-curriculum – Do we have it? E-vidya is a very ambitious project and the idea behind it is to remove inequality from the education system. On paper, this sounds ideal. The project promises e-content and digital books. In the budget 2020, we saw a 5% increased allocation to education. (moneycontrol.com) Will this extra 5% succeed in bringing about substantial change in education?
  • Human resource – Once education goes online, the role played by teachers will change drastically. How are we training teachers for this change? Or should I ask, are we training teachers for e-learning?
  • But most importantly, what a brick and mortar school can offer, online learning can’t. Here is why;

Social and Emotional Skills Development 

Schools are where children not only learn their numbers and spellings but they are the physical spaces where children learn sharing, cooperation, collaboration, negotiation, and develop resilience and empathy. A brick and mortar school is a safe space for children to explore and make sense of the world around them. It is where children learn to make connections, build lifelong friendships, and develop their first social networks.

Physical development

There is ample studies indicating the importance of physical development. Studies have proved that physical development is vital for cognitive development. Schools provide stimulating indoor and outdoor play spaces. Schools provide activities to enhance both gross and fine motor skills.

Play is learning 

Children learn through play. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, play is essential in the early years. In their play children consolidate learnt concepts. In their play, children make spontaneous discoveries and are most creative. Play enhances social and emotional development. It is rightly said, ‘’Play is children’s business.’’

Outdoor playground 

Outdoor play is vital for children’s holistic development. No apps or online gaming can replace outdoor play. Schools have a safe outdoor environment, schools have age-appropriate outdoor play equipment and most importantly schools have qualified teachers who understand children’s play. Teachers can facilitate children’s play, and teachers can scaffold learning through play.

Wide curriculum 

Schools go beyond the three R’s. They offer a wide variety of experiences to children be it sports, music, dancing or art. These experiences make the lives of children rich and expand their horizons. I am sure you will agree that playing football on your phone and playing football in a field with friends are two very different experiences, later being far more rewarding.

Brick and mortar schools work on the idea of holistic development. They see development in different areas as being interconnected and interdependent and plan experiences accordingly. Technology definitely has a place in our education system, but as a supportive tool and not as a replacement. Temporary dependence on virtual learning is acceptable, but the longer we wait to re-open schools the bigger damage to generation Z.

COVID-19 is unknown and unfamiliar. There is a lot we don’t know about this virus and probably it will take us years to fully recognize the impact of the virus on the mankind. However, based on what we know, children are not the face of this pandemic. We have to make the best decision based on what we know today.

The decision to have schools and colleges remain shut is not evidence-based but is avoidance based. I think we need to start exploring the possibilities of safe (and perhaps partial) re-opening of our schools and colleges. Quality education is children’s right! Let us once again fill the corridors of our schools with children’s giggles and laughter.

Coming Soon: Safe re-opening of schools!