In January 2020, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of a new coronavirus disease, COVID 19, to be a public health emergency. When a human body and mind are facing health issues, it is an emergency not only in a physiological sense but also impacts the emotional and psychological balance in the person. In the time of crisis, maintaining a routine and focusing on the learning of children can take a backseat.
Children and young adults account for 42% of the world’s population and this age group’s need for learning and growth might be neglected as the world is busy with containing the pandemic. Keeping children engaged wisely with adequate stimulation to the brain in this tough time is as significant as keeping them protected from the pandemic. A report published by the WHO highlighted that by 25 April 2020, around 1.5 billion children have been out of school across the globe. In the absence of schooling and routine, children are compromising on their learning curve and academic growth. This is more worrisome for early years, as the brain is developing at a rapid pace in the first six years of a child’s life and hence, every single day counts! Children are at risk of losing basic literacy and numeracy skills if not given appropriate stimulation during this significant period of growth and development.
The significance of learning through peer interactions and classroom activities in early years can never be overemphasized, however, exposing children to be a part of a large group in these pandemic times, carries high risk. This is a very tough situation to be in. Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures. There are no easy solutions when the atmosphere is not conducive and there is a need to strike a balance. The best possible solution lies in delivering rich content to children through interactive virtual classrooms. If adopted systematically, this medium can be very useful for imparting the concepts to young children.
The most important aspect is to use screen time wisely; not everything related to screen time has a negative impact on a child’s mind. Now is the time to reconsider preconceived notions about the presence of technology in children’s lives. While many adults perceive screen exposure as a monster capable of chewing up the most meaningful hours of children, interactive sessions based on two-way communication through screens can be a great source of learning for children. American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) guidelines suggest that from age two through six, children can view screens to watch high-quality educational content. The very existence of screen and technology cannot be denied in today’s world and if it allows children to stay connected with educators and peers, it should be accepted as a partner in learning. This partnership though needs a lot of maturity and certain cautions to be entertained by parents as well as educators.
Also Read: Screen Time: How Much is too Much?
The partnership UNICEF’s recent report — ‘Growing up in a connected world’ — states when considering digital or technological experiences of children, more attention should be paid to what children do online, the content they encounter, and their living environment and support network in general. Not too much, not too little, but just the right amount of screen time seems to be optimal for children. And this right amount of screen time should include active engagement of children rather than simply asking them to sit as silent spectators in front of the screen. While parents need to support this process of learning by not stigmatizing screen time, educators need to focus on rich and age-appropriate content while developing it for young children. Similarly, an interactive method of communication while delivering the content has to be adopted to ensure children’s learning and growth.
In an ideal world, a childhood close to nature amidst peers with lively human interactions is best for children. If a pandemic is not allowing that to happen, confining children within the four walls of one’s home with limited stimulation can be very detrimental for their growth and development. This discontinuation in the learning process of children will have grave and intangible effects and we will need decades to take our children out of that. Weeks of starving children’s brains from the right kind of stimulation will lead to an added struggle, showing a lasting impact even in the post-pandemic time.
Before it is too late, the need of the hour is to find the best possible solution. Healthy screen time for kids with strict timelines not only imparts the right knowledge to children but can also help in bringing routine to life. Routine provides predictability of the day to the human brain and children are found to be heavily benefitted if a family follows a routine on a regular basis. Recent studies highlight that parents are also getting enough “me time” when they allow children to participate in interactive virtual sessions with their educators and peers. Thus, having a controlled screen exposure with active participation from a child can be a win-win situation for both children and parents.
Time to embrace screen as a partner in learning provided it is rich in content, interactive and blended!
Learn@Home– A brand new, interactive learning platform for preschoolers and toddlers
Covid-19 Parent Toolkit – to help you deal with COVID-19 parenting challenges
The author is a child psychologist who is working for the training and parent partnership initiatives at KLAY preschools and day-care as a consultant. She is also working with children and families of various countries from the last two decades as a psychologist
With children out of school, physical distancing as the new norm, and children’s rights under threat, the new world order has “turned back the clock” on years of progress made on children’s well-being. However, it’s not all bad. As a human race, we’ve been built to adapt: we’ve seen a tipping point in technology-enabled education and the promise of a new education policy in our country.