We say “Children are the future” – and that’s true – but there’s a fundamental problem with that idea. It suggests that they’re just kids now, but later when they become the future, we can start taking care of them with colleges and universities, a better economy, a better job climate. But that’s wrong. It is right now that their brains are developing. Schools will be closed for the next 6 months at least, so can we afford to let children miss out on crucial brain stimulation?
Children go through a period of rapid learning in the first ten years. The most embedded parts of their personality – their attitudes and moral values, their emotional tendencies, their learning abilities, how they deal with people, how they deal with situations, good or bad – they are all a product of experiences that they have between the ages of 0 and 10. That’s when they learn how to adapt and respond to the world.
Early Childhood and Primary Education makes a difference that persists well into adulthood. It shapes who you become. At that age, the brain is making new connections that will one day become the blueprint for life. And at that age, if children don’t receive the right kind of care or learning, they will grow up with a few crayons missing from their life’s pencil box. And why should that happen to anybody?
It is important that children in this age group have access to flexible, multifaceted, multilevel, play-based, activity-based, and discovery-based education. During these years it entails learning about alphabets, languages, numbers, counting, colours, shapes, drawing/painting, indoor and outdoor play, puzzles and logical thinking, visual art, craft, drama, puppetry, music, and movement.
The problem is not that we don’t want to care for our children. People just need to know-how. Parents, teachers, the government, all the stakeholders in the future of our children, we go about it on a trial-by-fire basis, and sometimes knee jerk reactions to situations. But we need a more structured, a more uniform way to do this. Let's not ‘throw away the baby with the bathwater,' just because a few schools have made mistakes in conducting online classes and misused the opportunity does not mean we should let a whole generation of children spend the next four or more months without any learning or contact with their teachers.
Early Childhood Association and the Association of Primary Education and Research urge the government not to put a blanket ban on online education of early and primary years. Let's have a guided approach based on need, value and impact. Let's understand that schools will not open for another 3 months, which means children will lose out on connection and engagement with teachers. Parents will use online apps to ensure that children learn and these apps will not be able to give the ‘serve and return’ interactions that teachers can give through live engagement platforms. Children will become consumers of technology and screens instead of learning to use screens and technology for communication and sharing based interactions.
If we look at what other countries have experienced after reopening schools, they have had to shut down because of a spike in cases. It means that we will need a format of 'click-brick-click’ for our children’s education, this means start the year with basic online (click), then reopen schools (brick) and when we have to shut them again revert to online (click).
As educationists, we would like to recommend that the government issues guidelines to control and navigate the dangers of any of screen time and online education thus maintaining a balance by extending and nurturing opportunities of blended learning formats, today children of all ages require a virtual touch with their teachers, classmates, to share, communicate, engage and bond. Let us teach them about technology literacy and safety.
Attached are guidelines developed by the Early Childhood Association and Association for Primary Education and Research on how to implement developmentally appropriate and safe online sessions for early and primary years. We urge the government to move from a blanket ban to aiding the schools in following guidelines that are safe and implementable for all children.
Children maybe 20% of our population right now, but they are 100% our future, so let us not let our future stagnate in the coming months, let us invest and safeguard their learning by adopting practices and guidelines that will benefit their growth, development and learning for life.
Dr S.P. Vats
On behalf of national committee ECA and APER
Dr SAMIR HASAN DALWAI, Developmental Behavioural Pediatrician, New Horizons Child Development Centre, Founder Vice President Early Childhood Association, Joint National Secretary, India Academy of Pediatrics
“Unprecedented times need innovative solutions based on robust developmental evidence. Children need positive age-appropriate stimulation for optimal brain development at all times. They also need to be safeguarded against neglect and negativity. Pre-school teachers are an invaluable resource to keep children on their developmental track. We need to harness this energy to deliver gentle, play-based messages to our little ones across the country.”
Dr SAGAR MUNDADA, Consultant Psychiatrist
“Interaction via video chat if utilized properly can be helpful…the chat should focus more on activities rather, simple life skills which teachers can guide the tiny tots to learn. Nothing matches the face-to-face interaction but in this scenario, student-student chats (seeing other children) via video call can the closest thing to socialization. The children also get to mingle with other key humans apart from their parents which can get a little tiring sometimes. The only precaution should be that it is limited to a maximum of 1 hour only. In fact, children are subtly taught to effectively manage the impulse for increased screen time in the long term via these video chats wherein they are taught that after certain time, no screen time means no screen time, hence improved self-regulation can be taught.”
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