Frontlist | Govt recommends cap on screen time for online classes, issues guideline for online classes
Schoolchildren in Classes 1-8 should spend no more than two teaching sessions of 30-45 minutes each in a day and those in higher classes must have only four such sessions, the Union human resource department (HRD) ministry said on Tuesday in guidelines meant to limit the time students spend in front of screens at a time when the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic has shut schools around the world.
The guidelines — which are not binding but are likely to be adopted by schools affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and Kendriya Vidyalayas — are meant “to mitigate the impact of the pandemic” on the roughly 240 million children as schools stay shut to reduce the risk of infection. The document notes that schools will need to “remodel” and “re-imagine” teaching and learning methods by introducing suitable home and institutional schooling methods.
According to the guidelines, made in consultation with CBSE and the National Council for Education, Research and Training (NCERT), pre-primary children should not be made to sit in front of screens for over 30 minutes while children of Classes I to 8 should not be asked to attend more than two sessions of 30-45 minutes on days they hold online classes.
For students in Classes 9-12, they can be part of up to four sessions a day of 30-45 minutes each.
“Do not rush for the sake of completing the syllabus, rather focus on the consolidation of learning. Plan the interventions keeping in mind students’ level, age, resource availability, nature of content, etc,” the guidelines suggest.
Rather than relying too much on teaching in front of screens, schools have been asked to focus on the alternative academic calendar, which the NCERT is preparing for the year.
Children exposed to digital technologies or gadgets for a longer time are prone to severe health issues, officials and past research has said, prompting authorities to look for ways in which exposure to digital gadgets can be avoided by designing age-appropriate schedules.
HRD minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank said the guidelines, titled PRAGYATA, have been developed from the perspective of learners, with a focus on online, blended or digital education for students who are presently at home.
A CBSE official, who asked not to be named, said the board “takes all directions from the HRD ministry seriously and implements them with sincerity even if they are of an advisory nature”.
Some of the other aspects of the guidelines describe the need for assessment, planning and steps to implement digital education while ensuring cyber safety and privacy measures. It also outlines the support to be provided to students with special needs.
For parents, the guidelines focus on understanding the need for physical, mental health and wellbeing along with the cyber safety measures for children at home.
While parents welcomed the HRD ministry’s new guidelines on capping the screen timing, school principals and students expressed mixed reactions.
CR Park resident Rupa, who goes only by her first name and has a son in nursery, said: “I don’t mind classes every day but I definitely wanted reduced timings. While the online sessions are a good guide for parents, we want our son to continue doing activities under teacher’s guidance as younger children are more likely to listen to their teachers, especially if they are studying at home.”
Kavita Arora, whose daughter is a Class 6 student at a south Delhi private school, said: “The reduced timings won’t affect their education much because they have been submitting multiple assignments anyway. The guidelines are welcome because my daughter was complaining of headaches and irritation in her eyes. We had to visit an eye specialist and there were several children there indicating that increased screen time was leading to a lot of problems. We hope the school implements this quickly.”
Several school principals said that the capping of screen timing was essential. “It is important to have some capping on the screen timing. The screen time should be a time which is productive. Listening to classes hours after hours is not productive. We have been following quite a similar time frame for online classes even now. This capping of screen timing will also allow teachers and students to balance the online and offline activities taking place simultaneously,” said Amita Wattal, principal of Springdales School in Pusa Road.
Jyoti Arora, principal of Mount Abu Public School in Rohini, said that the new screen timing is fine for junior classes but it can be a challenge for senior classes. “For primary and upper primary classes there could be recorded videos which the students can access any time. There are certain topics which can be converted into activities and we can just brief students about it and they can do it at home. This way, children will also get an opportunity to do some research. However, for senior classes from 9 to 12, schools will need some more time. We have lots of syllabus to finish and there is also a requirement of extra explanations from teachers’ side,” she said.
Darshan Ram, a Class 12 student at Bluebells School International in Kailash Colony, also said that 30 to 45 minutes for a session will be too less for students of senior classes. “Currently, we are having one hour-long three sessions a day. So if we cut down the duration to 45 minutes we will not get time for any kind of discussion,” he said.