Mix up the old Karan Johar movie franchise title ‘Student of the Year’ and you will get the perfect description for 2020 – ‘Year of the Student’.
With the academic year 2020 going online pretty much overnight, one school head confessed that his teachers had to do as much learning as the students, re-casting lessons into online format and understanding how to hold students’ attention.
One parent even told me that the clear danger sign was if a child cupped her cheek in her palm – the next stage would be Zombie Hour. Sensibly, the Indian government has even stipulated the number of school hours online for children and its way below the crazy hours we piled onto them in the first flush of e-learning.
The Indian Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has said schools can hold online classes for a maximum of 1.5 hours per day for Classes 1-8, and three hours per day for Classes 9-12. For kindergarten, nursery and pre-school, only 30 minutes of screen time per day is recommended.
Covid-19 numbers in Bahrain are rising and even though recovery is good and our medical system is robust, we cannot afford to let our guard down. That is why the Education Ministry has started looking at long-term plans for the new school year, saying it will be a blend of distance learning and traditional classes.
Since education is underwritten by the state, Bahraini students are assured of maximum support. But rules about limiting classes to thrice a week and to nine or 10 students at a time to maintain social distancing and safety is making the larger community schools nervous.
We are talking of a huge outlay of expenses to ensure safety, follow the rules and draw up a rota that will see students attending school on different days of the week and have a uniform academic experience.
Now many private schools in Bahrain are very well-run and have excellent results to show for it. Parents pay hefty fees for world-class facilities.
But there are also community schools which are non-profit organisations and whose charter stipulates that every child seeking admission must be accommodated and the universal birthright to education be translated into reality.
For these schools, it is always a challenge to deliver on the quality promise and keep their commitment to the community as providers of access to education systems which children can fit into if they have to relocate back home.
Yet they do well and even without a pandemic, the teachers and administrators are frontliners, coping with tremendous trials and pulling out top-class results despite all odds.
What will these schools do now? Many of their students’ families are already struggling even with basic school expenses and will not be able to shoulder new financial demands for social distancing, transport and multiple shift arrangements.
And although the digital divide is not as pronounced in Bahrain as it is in India, for example, there are many students who cannot afford a laptop to attend online classes.
This may be a great opportunity to repurpose the computer you junked when you upgraded to a new one for all those Zoom meetings and donate it to a family that is looking to go to school online.
All it needs is a bit of back-up, cleaning out of files and updating of software and you can give a new lease of life to what would otherwise just be e-waste lying around your home office.
There’s a good turn waiting to be uncovered at every turn – and a lesson to be learnt.