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Online classes and vacations

The Jammu and Kashmir government has announced winter vacations in all schools upto higher secondary level in Kashmir and winter zones of Jammu. In an official order on Friday, the school education department announced the vacations that are going to be begin from December 21, 2020 till February 28, 2021. The initial order on Friday was a bit confusing as it stated that winter tutorials for classes 11th and 12th and online classes shall be held by strictly adhering to COVID-19 SOPs issued by the government from time to time. As soon as the announcement was made, people on social media started questioning the order’s ambiguity regarding whether the online classes were mandatory or not. Soon after the government clarified that such classes were voluntary for both teachers and students. As winters have begun in Kashmir and we are only a week and half away from Chillai Kalan, parents must analyse the efficacy and the role of online classes as a medium of instruction for our kids since the pandemic broke out in March this year. And accordingly, they should decide whether they want their kids to continue with the practice. The scourge of online classes imposed due to the pandemic, exacerbated by slow 2G speed in Kashmir, has forced children to spend more time on the screen resulting in severe health problems. The screen routine has become mandatory and monotonous in the name of online classes. The constant gazing at screens for two-three hours has led to eye fatigue, weakness, and dryness among the kids. While an online method of education can be a highly effective alternative medium of education for the mature, self-disciplined student, it is an inappropriate learning environment for more dependent learners. Online asynchronous education gives students control over their learning experience and allows for flexibility of study schedules for non traditional students; however, this places a greater responsibility on the student. In order to successfully participate in an online program, students must be well organized, self-motivated, and possess a high degree of time management skills in order to keep up with the pace of the course. For these reasons, online education is not appropriate for younger students (i.e. elementary or secondary school age) and other students who are dependent learners and have difficulty assuming responsibilities required by the online paradigm. Many kids are finding it difficult to handle lengthy online classes every day. These growing grievances make it noticeably clear that the online classes are having drastic impact on the eyes of children. Ever since the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic, life for children has changed like never before. Schools are closed and meetings with peers and friends outdoors are prohibited. They are being forced to adjust to the changing dynamics of social and interpersonal relationships. The mandatory e-learning has emerged as a method for current teaching and learning in private universities and schools. However, the overexposure to electronic medium is causing eye strain and vision problems for the lockdown-weary Kashmiri students. In the latest policy paper, “Digital eye strain (DES) in the era of COVID 19 pandemic: An emerging public health threat”, published in Indian Journal of Ophthalmology in August, the health experts have highlighted how without any specific guidelines, it is now a usual routine for children to spend most of the time (8-12 hours per day) attending e-classes in front of a computer or mobile screens. The paper pointed out that the use of digital screens is quite common among Kashmiri children. Besides, the instigation of unlimited e-classes for such children has put an extra load on their already overburdened eyes. The devices, according to the paper, cause harm by emitting short high energy waves that can penetrate eyes and can eventually contribute to photochemical damage to the retinal cells, making an individual vulnerable to a variety of eye problems ranging from dry eye to age related macular degeneration. It is collectively known as Digital Eye Strain (DES) or computer vision syndrome. DES is an emerging public health threat and is directly proportional to the duration of digital screen exposure. According to it the age group that is the most at risk is children and we assume that their diagnosis could get delayed as children may not complain at the earliest like adults. It is the high time now for the policymakers to come up with a stringent guideline to deal with this emerging threat.