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Caught in dilemma of online, offline classes, students stare at uncertain future in Kashmir

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Srinagar: Asif Khan is a worried man. His 15-year-old son is struggling with the transition from online to offline classes. Not only has his son lost interest in the studies, but it has taken a heavy toll on his mental health.

“The sudden shift from online to offline classes has been mentally tiring for my child. He often skipped online lessons because he could not grasp anything.  Now, getting back to rigorous classes has made him lose further interest in the subjects. He feels caught in a complete maelstrom,” Asif said.

 

Asif’s son is not the only one who is struggling with this transition. Insha, 17, who had earlier held high hopes for the re-opening of the school, now feels all the more “disengaged and unmotivated.”

“This continuous tussle between online and physical classes has further added to our anxiety levels. We are tired of getting so many home assignments because the teachers expect us to self-study since the teaching hours are reduced. The classes are deficient in the intangibility of the learning process,” she said.

After studying at home for almost 20 months, the students are now getting back to school in the valley. While students are happy to meet their friends and teachers, however, there is “a lot of pressure- as many feel like nothing had happened in the several months of online learning.”

A recent research study titled “Loss of Learning during the Pandemic” published by Azim Premji University in February 2021 maintained that school closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a complete disconnect from education for the vast majority of children or inadequate alternatives like community-based classes or poor alternatives in the form of “online education, including mobile phone-based learning.”

“One complete academic year has elapsed in this manner, with almost no or little curricular learning in the current class. But this is only one kind of loss of learning. Equally alarming is the widespread phenomenon of ‘forgetting’ by students of learning from the previous class – this is a regression in their curricular learning,” the report said.

The study covered 16067 children in 1137 public schools in 44 districts across 5 states. It focused on the assessment of four specific abilities each in language and mathematics, across classes 2-6. These four specific abilities for each grade were chosen because these are among the abilities for all subsequent learning – across subjects – and so the loss of any one of these would have very serious consequences on all further learning.

“The key findings of the study showed 92% of children on an average have lost at least one specific language ability from the previous year across all classes, and 82% of children on average have lost at least one specific mathematical ability from the previous year across all classes,” the report said.

Academician at Islamic University of Science and Technology Awantipora, Huzaifa Pandit, said as a teacher he has found that students are yet to acclimatize to the online-offline fluctuation.

“It has disturbed their rhythm and doesn’t allow them to settle and concentrate properly. As a result, classes are getting rather chaotic and disrupted. Also, I myself find it hard to switch between the online and offline mediums constantly and struggle at times to maintain a flow in the class,” he said.

Huzaifa stressed the need for stress management programmes and counseling sessions to be held in educational institutions at present.

“We need stress redressal mechanisms to cope with the anxiety of uncertain future and dealing with disrupted classes,” he said.

Psychologists and Sociologists in the valley also agree that this “fluctuation between online and offline classes” has taken a great mental toll on students and needs to evaluated carefully by agenda makers.

Dr. Aftab Rather, lecturer of sociology at Government Degree College, Shopian, said the socialization of students is turning “defective” due to the alternate online-offline mode of classes.

“Schools and colleges are important agencies of socialization. In the present situation, however, the continuous gaps between the online and offline classes are leading to negative socialization in children. This way a child further loses motivation in studies and doesn’t show much aptitude,” he said.

He noted that the extent and nature of learning loss is serious enough to warrant action at all levels.

“Policy and processes to identify and address this loss are necessary as children return to schools. Supplemental support, whether in the form of talking about their general experiences during long Covid lockdown periods, group activities, or counseling sessions, are much needed to help children gain the foundational abilities when they return to school,” he said.

Seconding him, Dr. Yasir H Rather, Associate Professor, Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (IMHANS) said now comes the challenge to shift back to the previous lifestyle.

“It’s like unwiring the freshly done wiring for the students. Schools do need a refreshing course that gives a medium of expression to students, more of group activities or sessions where they work as a group, they reactivate the behavior done together. Focusing on these things can help children better,” he said.

Dr. Yasir however pointed out that the programmes shouldn’t be stress management. “It should be more of ‘we did it and now let’s express it’ theme. The need of the hour is ‘Expression with peers in the safe conducive environment’ and it can only happen in schools,” he said.

On the other side, Joint Director (DESK), Central Abid Hussain said, that the directorate of education is well-aware about the situation of students.

“We have directed both government and private schools to go for counseling of these students. We know that they are in some sort of trauma as they have to switch from online to offline mode, under conditions, which are not feasible for regular work. There are strict directions given to take the mental well-being of the children into consideration,” he said.