In the long-ago days before corona, what was your office day like? I mean, if you were a conscientious worker. You’d probably take a break every hour or 90 minutes, get yourself a coffee, have a chat at the water-cooler, even a quick check of your personal mail. Now that we are chained to Zoom or Microsoft Teams or whatever our corporate bosses think best, there are pressure points we hadn’t factored in.
The first joyful flush of working in your Savile Row suit (for the camera) and pyjamas below table (for comfort) is over and we are juggling with ambient household noise (the kids fighting over their PlayStation or your spouse conducting his/her own office meeting next door) and new expectations – dads are expected to put their weight behind online classroom schedules, especially if mom too is working. You have to keep at least your camera space looking ‘official’ and since the Middle East does not follow the French rules of not calling up employees after office hours, we are all finding that our work life is eating into our personal time. Bosses and team leaders call when you’re in family mode, so you waste that freshly laundered shirt teaching your child the times table.
The point I want to make is that we adults have fallen headlong into tech trap and find that our work focus is getting increasingly challenging. Why then, are we putting our children through the same circus for school work? When schools announced shut down in early March, it is true that nobody expected the whole academic year to fall apart. The transition to online classes was swift and I believe, from accounts by frustrated parents and teachers, that not enough thought is being given to the experiment. (I am only talking in the Bahrain context, so larger problems of access to online education are not touched upon here.)
For starters, how can we expect children who are new to the online format to sit in front of their machines and focus for a continuous three or four hours? A physical classroom with its social interaction is very different – and even there an average 10-year-old can be expected to concentrate for about 30 minutes at the most. In an online environment, students as young as eight and nine are expected to show up in front of the computer and immediately get into study mode like robots. They can’t exchange greetings with each other like they would in a classroom. In effect, we have given them a sterile electronic environment to study in and are mighty pleased with ourselves at our achievement.
Teachers complain about parents who watch their daily TV soaps next to the children attending class – or worse, co-teach with them, leading to disruptions for the whole class.
Since the process of imparting education is never going to be the same again, we need to be prepared for the next wave and introspect. It is not enough to simply tick the box about lessons completed and tests given.
Educationists always bemoan the fact that classrooms show the least change, given how much technology we handle in everyday life. Well, that goal-post seems to have changed. Today we are using technology extensively to reach students in their Covid-bound homes. But we also need to build in social exchange and replicate the social lessons that children naturally learn in school. Only then will online education come full circle and move forward meaningfully.