Indian Journal of Health Social Work
National LockDown: CHANGING MODEL OF EDUCATION and it’s impact on
mental health DURING COVID-19
Neethumol Xaviour1, Elizabeth K. Thomas2, Jobin Tom3
1M.Phil. Scholar, Department of Psychiatric Social Work, Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (IMHANS), Kozhikode. 2Psychiatric Social Worker, Department of Psychiatric Social Work, Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (IMHANS), Kozhikode. 3Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatric Social Work, Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (IMHANS), Kozhikode.
Correspondence: Jobin Tom, e-mail id: firstname.lastname@example.org
Educational institutions in India follow the traditional mode of teaching and learning, that is, they follow the face-to-face lectures in a classroom. The sudden outbreak of COVID-19 has imposed an educational crisis all over the world challenging the existing education system and forcing them to shift to an online mode of teaching. As the uncertainty continued most the institutes who were reluctant to accept the change was left with no option but to shift to online mode. In a country like India where majority of the students belongs to a lower socio-economic status, the sudden shift in education has resulted in inequality and digital divide which had an adverse effect on the mental health of the population. The article explains the impact of locked down on education, online education during COVID-19, challenges faced, psychosocial impact of online education, advantages and disadvantages of online education. Towards the end of this article it also gives a brief deatils on the recommended solution form a social work perspective.
Keywords: Lockdown, coronavirus, covid-19, mental health.
Education is a social institution for gaining knowledge and skills. It plays an important role in building successful people. Education is not learning from books alone. It is believed that education begins from the moment a child is born. Education begins as an informal process where an infant learns through observation and imitation. As the child grows, education becomes a formal process of acquiring systematic instructions through institutions. Education is a learning process through which people’s knowledge, skills and habits are passed from one generation to the next. Through education, an individual becomes an integral part of the society and maintains the protraction of culture. People learn the norms, values and rules of society via education. Thus, education is important in improving personal endowments and building the capacity level of an individual. Education broadens our perspective and creates awareness. It helps to build a disciplined life. Education is believed to be the cornerstone of our future. Education usually takes place under the guidance of others, but it can also be autodidactic. Education is divided into categories such as preschool, primary school, high school, college and university.
TEACHING AND LEARNING SYSTEM
Teaching and learning are the two vital components of academic activity. Teaching is undertaking certain tasks and activities with an intention to induce learning. A teacher can anticipate that some activities will result in learning, but it cannot be guaranteed(Smith & Spearman, 2010). It cannot be always said that learning requires teaching. People learn a lot from their day to day experience, observation, trial and error and reasoning. According to Smith and Spearman (2010) teaching is a normative activity that confirms to certain ethical conditions such as : Conditioning (stimulus obeying behaviour), indoctrinating (uniformed belief), brainwashing (conditioned behaviour/uninformed belief), informing (information with explanation or evidence, no experience provided, training (rule obeying behaviour), instructing (training and informing), and teaching (verification of processes, concern for what the student thinks, preparing them for independent action).
IMPACT OF LOCKDOWN ON EDUCATION
In an attempt to contain the spread of COVID-19, most governments across the world have temporarily closed educational institutions (UNESCO, 2020) leaving students remain at home. The students have minimal contact with friends and less physical activities. This closure has impacted the educational sector badly. The dates of reopening are uncertain as the COVID-19 pandemic is surging out of control in many regions. The recent reports by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), shows more than 1.5 billion learners – over 90% of the world student population – are affected by the school closure (UNESCO, 2020). Thus, the COVID-19 outbreak has imposed an educational crisis all over the world. The period between February to July is a crucial time for the educational sector in India. Most of the board exams, entrance exams for various universities and admissions to various educational institutions are held being during this period. An article by Vidisha (2020) in India Today news magazine mentions that CBSE, ICSE and other recognized educational boards have either postponed or cancelled their examinations. Institutions like IITs and IIMs have all closed their campuses and moved on with online classes. Standardized tests like GMAT, GRE, SATs, ACT remain suspended and therefore the way forward for many remains uncertain. The vagueness of the situation induces anxiety and confusion on both the educators and students alike, as they are unable to decide the next step regarding the continuity of educational objectives.
These closure of institutions primarily affects the structure of school education and learning, including teaching and assessment methods(Choudary, 2020). Only a handful of private schools could adopt online teaching methods. On the other hand, low income private and government schools had to completely shut down as they could not afford the e-learning solution, widening the learning inequalities for vulnerable children and youth(Choudary, 2020). Another major concern is in the sector of higher education, as many of the students from India used to enrol for higher studies in universities in UK, USA, Australia and China, which are worst affected by the pandemic. Due to the decline in demand for international higher education in India, chances of Indian students being admitted in international universities are diminishing in future, impacting the country’s economic future(Choudary, 2020).The effect of disease on the employment rate is another reason for concern. Due to the current situation, students who have completed their degrees have fear of loss of job opportunities in the corporate sector. The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy’s estimates unemployment shot up from 8.4 percent in mid-March to 23 percent in early April 2020. The urban unemployment rate is 30.9%(Choudary, 2020).
ONLINE EDUCATION DURING COVID-19
Learning cannot be stopped; it has to go on. Beyond anyone’s expectation, the global lockdown has seen the expansion of educational services being provided through technology platforms. A sudden paradigm shift has occurred in converting the fashionable and desirable online services for mainstream use. Whether it is a private or government school, or one of the world’s top leading universities, education is being shared via a specific online platform. A new life style has taken over the students/children since the outbreak of coronavirus, as schools and colleges across the globe are temporarily closed due to the lockdown. Children have turned on to the virtual world where learning is done online. In most cities, schools have moved their classes to the cloud services. TheVasant valley school in Delhi, was the one of the first in the country to organize virtual classes for students of classes six and above(Rekha Krishnan 2020). To enable online classes the school began using a cloud-based video calling application. Several schools are following this model to ensure that the exact school experience is replicated. Video conferencing platforms like Zoom and WebEx are used widely for the continuing the learning. Apart from this, Instructure’s Canvas, Blackboard and Google Classroom are also in the mainstream. Softwares like Proctorio, a Google Chrome extension are also used to monitor students undertaking exams online (Rekha Krishnan 2020).
Along with the educational institutions offering online classes, some of the education technology start-ups are temporarily providing free classes to reduce the impact of school closure(Lewis, 2020). BYJU’S, an India-based education start-up named after its founder, Byju Raveendran, announced in early March that it might give children free access to its learning app, which it says, has more than 40 million users at the top of last year. Around 3 million of these paid between $150 and $200 for an annual subscription. Since the announcement, the company says there is a 60% surge in students using its products, which range from interactive video lessons, live classes, quizzes and exam preparation(Lewis, 2020).It’s not just the school education platforms that are making their services free. Olive board, which is one of the largest e-learning platforms for banking and government job aspirants, is providing #GharPeCoaching, a free course for all banking exams to all aspirants across the country to reduce the risk of coronavirus infection (Patil, 2020).
CHALLENGES OF ONLINE LEARNING DURING COVID-19: INDIAN SCENARIO
The e-learning process is a challenge for both teachers and students. It keeps them busy with lectures, worksheets and assignments. Few institutions have started uploading lectures onto YouTube. Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan employs a self-publishing portal with lectures on 32 DTH channels, telecasting on 24×7 basis using the GSAT-15 satellite to help students in their learning. Andhra Pradesh is trying to tap in Doordarshan to lessen barriers in accessing education. Some institutions are using the Zoom app while others are using Google Classroom(Priscilla Jebaraj et al., 2020). Switching to e- learning to mitigate the effects of educational disruption during COVID -19 has many challenges. Some of the challenges are related to preparedness, infrastructure and capacity, as well as the digital gaps, putting additional strain on students, parents, teachers, principals and the educational authorities(Priscilla Jebaraj et al., 2020).The increasing trend of using online platforms in education has raised concerns among experts in education. It is pointed out that there are apps on Smartphone’s that may distract students in focusing on studies. These apps can become a danger for young children, while others raised concerns regarding alienating the economically disadvantaged population with the digital shift(Sharma, 2020).
News magazine The Print, on 22 April 2020 reports approximately 16 lakh children from poor families attend government and municipal schools across the country. Their education will be disrupted without access to a cell phone, internet and laptops. But at the same time students from the privileged background, especially from private schools attend online classes during the closure due to coronavirus lockdown(Bedi, 2020).
The Delhi government run by Aam Aadmi Party has started teaching Plus two students using Zoom app, but most the students in primary and secondary schools are struggling, as they find it difficult to study maths and other subjects through WhatsApp or other platforms(Bedi, 2020). The reality is, many children do not have access to laptops at home, while in homes that have laptops, laptops are being used by their parents who are working from home. (Priscilla Jebaraj et al., 2020).
In a report issued on 21 April, 2020, by UNESCO, a multi-dimensional agency, a concern about the online shift was highlighted. According to UNESCO, approximately 826 million (82.6 crore) students are not able to attend online classes as they do not have a computer at home, another 43% i.e.,706 million have no internet at home (Sharma, 2020).
PSYCHOSOCIAL IMPACT OF ONLINE EDUCATION
For children, school isn’t just an educational focal point, yet in addition it’s a home outside the home which provides a plenty of opportunity to learn and grow. Schools assume an illuminating function in advancing significance of individual cleanliness, physical work, healthy food, and habits. Taking all this into account a transient closure of school and home imprisonment for kids is in fact problematic and foreseen to affect the physical and emotional well-being of children. Closure of schools break the feeling of routineness that schools used to give. It has been noted that Childhood obesity due to long-term physical inactivity, irregular sleep patterns, unfavourable diet plans, sedentary life style, longer smart-phone/television screen time are at a higher rate during lockdown. Absence of in-person contact with friends and educators, absence of individual space at house, and growing financial burden on parents can prompt psychosocial stressors among the youths. Now let us look at the psychosocial issues that have emerged as a result of the new educational model at the time of COVID-19.
Digital divide & mental health: With the closure of schools and colleges, most of the educational institutions resort to online mode of education. This has created a disparity especially for students belonging to lower economic status. Online education requires access to laptops/computers and internet facility. According to National Sample Survey, 2017-18, 24% of households have an internet facility and only 8% of all households with members aged between five and 24 have both a computer and an internet connection (Ministry of Statistics and programme implementation, July 2017–June 2018). This disparity of access has created academic stress in students who finds difficulty in availing online classes. They find themselves falling behind their classmates due to this inequal access which leads to symptoms of depression, anxiety and in some cases suicidal attempts have been reported among students due to academic stress and apprehensions about the future(Fegert et al., 2020). Incidence of death by suicide of a 15-year old girl due to lack of access to online classes from her village (TheHindu, 2020) and a 50-year-old farmer who was unable to buy a smartphone for her daughter’s online classes (HindustanTimes, 2020) highlights the severity of the psychological consequences of failure to get access to basic essential for education because of the socio economic and geographic barriers.
Challenges faced by students with special needs: Children with special needs wind up at a more distraught circumstance with the suspension of their educational and vocational activities in the wake of this pandemic. Children and adolescents with neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and intellectual disability require regular occupational, speech and behaviour therapy for their symptom regulation. Most centres for special education in India are not outfitted to offer their services through digital platforms or home-based interventions. As of late the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disability (under the Ministry of Social Justice and Welfare) released Comprehensive Disability Inclusive Guidelines for protection and safety of persons with disabilities during COVID-19 yet it stays quiet in regard to the educational provisions for children with special needs. Without socially inclusive education policies for this child, the direction of their clinical and functional outcome would likewise deviate towards an adverse course, which over the long run would add to the mental health and economic burden in society.
Academic stress: The current situation made by the social restrictions imposed by the pandemic, has prompted extreme degrees of academic stress in students. Uncertainty with regards to the reopening of schools and the evacuation of the anticipated events especially among the final year students has resulted in increased anxiety about the future especially with regard to the job markets. Academic related stress is significantly associated with reduced student academic motivation (Liu, 2015) and academic disengagement (Liu & Lu, 2011). This in turn makes them vulnerable to dropping out, future unemployment, and increased incidence of psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety and substance use disorders(Pascoe, Hetrick, Parker, & Youth, 2020)
Overburden in parents: The closure of schools has partly shifted the responsibility of teaching from teachers to parents who are compelled to carryout home-schooling of their children. This has become an extra burden on parents, when they are also struggling with other issues like work from home, financial crisis due to job loss and management of the household affairs. In several cases parents have found this situation difficult, especially those who lack the time and basic educational background that the new situation demands in terms of assisting the children with their assignments and tasks. Such sudden changes have put a large number of guardians and children in a state of confusion and helplessness leading to frustration and burnout.
Increased screen time: When the students started taking classes online, the time they spent in the virtual platform has increased, making them more vulnerable to online sexual exploitation and other such malpractices. In today’s digital world they get a lot of information and news through the digital platform, some of which are inappropriate to the age. With the paradigm shift to online mode parents are forced to give away the laptops/tabs/mobile for continuing education but most often they are being misused by the children.
ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF ONLINE LEARNING
With the outbreak of the pandemic, the traditional face to face classroom teaching has switched to online learning system. Teachers and students are forced to remain at home and carry out their duties and responsibilities. Creative and innovative, lecturers are required to keep students informed of proper education and teaching(Allo, 2020).Using various online platforms, teachers continue to interact and teach their students. For students who have only been exposed to a traditional classroom setting, transitioning to a virtual online classroom can be difficult in the beginning.(Allo, 2020).
Online, e-teaching and e-learning have many advantages and disadvantages; let’s look at some that stand out.
Google Classroom is one of the most well-known platforms for enhancing the workflow of teacher’s (Iftakhar, 2016). The Google classroom software engineer, A.Chehayeb described “the saving of time” as one of the advantages of the system(Chehayeb, 2015). About the advantages of e-learning, Vitoria, Mislinawati, and Nurmasyitah (2018) states that the e-learning web-based module was useful for students in developing their understanding, independence, self-discipline, motivation to learn and to improve communication with each other and with the teacher. Mamattah (2016)stated that majority of the students think e-learning is an innovative idea and must be encouraged. Nagrale stated that if the students opt for distance education, they do not have to travel on crowded buses or local trains, which increase the risk of infection. All they need is a computer with an internet connection in their homes (Brown, 2017).
Some of the inherent advantages of virtual classrooms are:
- Virtual classrooms are convenient and flexible, which enables an individual to access it from any place that has a strong internet connection.
- Virtual classrooms bring in experienced faculty from around the world, which enhance the quality of lectures they receive and provides opportunity for advanced learning.
- Recording the sessions in virtual classrooms helps students to watch and listen the entire session at a time of their convenience, even though the faculty conducting the session is not from the same country.
- Online classes provide individual attention. Many students aren’t comfortable asking questions in class for fear of feeling stupid. Online classes enable an individual to directly chat with the instructor creating a safe space to clarify doubts thus enhancing learning.
- Online teaching is considered green teaching as it saves paper and any other such costs.
There is a spike in online education for continuing learning during this lockdown. The survey conducted among 2500 students by the University of Hyderabad to determine the students’ need, found that the majority of students did not have proper access to the internet and electricity. This led the university in deciding not to impose online classes on their students(Deeksha, 2020).The study also found that those who are living in villages cited difficulty in availing reliable internet connectivity and electricity supply. Those who are doing studio based courses have expressed apprehensions about the limitation of online instruction in substituting face-to-face on-site practice(Deeksha, 2020).
The amplified use of technology to supplement learning has only widened the gaps between the haves and the have-nots (Prashant K. Nanda, 2020). Many of the students do not have the device, high speed internet, a stable home life and moreover no enough support at home to guide them (Bedi,2020).
Other disadvantages of online education are:
- Since there is no supervision over children as in a physical classroom setting, there are chances that a student may get easily distracted. A student’s focus and motivation determine the completion of his/her course.
- Another major drawback of online education is there are many websites that offer online courses without proper accreditation from the universities. This can create problems for students once they start searching for job.
- Many of the courses which need practical exposure such as professional networking, overseas experience is not possible via online education. Just a theoretical orientation won’t take the student to a higher level unless it is practiced.
- Language barriers for those from villages can be a major disadvantage in using online education.
- Technical difficulties encountered during online can be another major drawback that can disrupt the learning experience.
RECOMMENDED SOLUTIONS: SOCIAL WORK PERSPECTIVE
Technological innovations have been viewed as vital to the reform of school education and has gained a remarkable position during this pandemic. As the access to advanced mode of education is a favoured belonging, we can’t advance this unless the digital divide is tackled.
The selection of virtual method of education brought about an underlying gap in India heightening the existing structural inequalities. In such manner, a legitimate institutional mechanism is expected to screen, evaluate and bridge this digital divide, consequently, accepting this pandemic emergency as an opportunity to review and address the existing inconsistencies in access and use of ICT. Some of the flexible learning solution during this period includes:
- Mobilising human and financial resources to ensure universal access to digital infrastructure, tools and modern learning technologies.
- Providing training and support for teachers, trainers and learners themselves to engage in distance and online learning.
- Revising the teaching and learning models by the providers of education to make the best use of digital resource and tools.
- Capacity building for teachers through proper training can also be a best measure
- Another major solution is to broadcast the classes through virtual platforms like television as done in Kerala. In India about 90 percentage of population have access to television, making it a most popular choice. Govt can use free to air channels like DDTV to broadcast lectures.
- Building professional competency in teachers of regular and special schools in delivering online teaching.
- Special focus to students from lower socio economic and marginalised sections of the society.
- Improve invasion of electronic media and internet connectivity across geographical locations and various socio-economic strata.
- Upgrading the technological infrastructure
- Managing excessive screen use and gaming
- Providing training for parents to manage children at home.
- Managing behavioural changes in children
- Stress management
- Providing counselling
- Supporting the positive perceptions of the students by providing secure internet access, attractive learning materials etc.
The e – learning has helped to fill the gap created by school closure. During the outbreak students were sent home without a clear plan to continue their learning. As the viral transmission progressed from one region to another, the assumption of resuming regular classes after a brief lock down period did not become a reality. It is now apparent that the lockdown is not going to end soon. With this realisation, even though they are not fully equipped, the schools, colleges and universities have started online classes. Yet many endeavours to learn with the help of the available e-learning platforms and tools. This is found to be a suitable alternative for the present time, ensuring unhindered education being received at homes. However, this cannot replace education received in a classroom setting. There are advantages and disadvantages that either enhance or thwart the learning process.
For now, the quest must be to bridge the digital divide, so that all students, even those living in rural India and those studying in Municipal schools, have access to e – learning solutions for aiding unhindered educational growth.
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Conflict of interest: None Role of funding source: None