Class XI student Akhil’s (name changed) parents were shocked when he broke his mother’s laptop during a violent outburst.
Despite the Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights’ directive limiting online lessons to two hours per day, many schools are holding longer classes. Psychiatrists warn of serious mental health issues that may haunt children if this trend is not monitored
Class XI student Akhil’s (name changed) parents were shocked when he broke his mother’s laptop during a violent outburst. She is an IT professional and had an official video meeting at the time. So, when Akhil asked for the laptop, she said no. But he was too used to the screen, especially with the online classes and homework, that he couldn’t handle the rejection. Experts are warning against the increased screentime, which is manifesting as an addiction in children and adolescents, altering their behaviour and routine.
The pandemic had a part to play too. Teaching and learning shifted online during the lockdown, making smartphones and laptops a must-have in every household for a student. The students’ screentime is not being monitored properly, mostly because parents are also working from home and hooked to their devices. Though the Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights issued orders to schools in the state asking them to limit online classes to two hours a day and ensure proper breaks in between classes, many institutions are not implementing this. The directives are in sync with Central Board of Secondary Education and Indian Council for Secondary Education Syllabi.
Many parents allege that classes go on for longer than expected, and it has an effect on the child’s mental and physical health. “Initially my child had only one class. But now, it has increased to three. Sometimes the classes go up to four hours. It doesn’t end with the tuition, as they have homework to be completed and uploaded online. My kid regularly suffers from headaches and strain to eyesight, causing redness and irritation,” said a parent who wanted to stay anonymous.
Some parents have also reported mental health red flags like anxiety, mood swings and behavioural changes in children. “My kids are in Class I and VIII respectively. They are very cranky these days, often restless after their online classes. After sitting for hours in front of laptops and phones, they are unable to focus on anything else and are too exhausted” says another parent from Kochi.Office-bearers at educational institutions claim that online classes have been limited to two hours based on the State Commission on Protection of Child Rights directive.
“We are holding online classes on Zoom, a video conferencing platform. Earlier, the classes were held for four hours. But now, we have brought it down to two hours, with one-hour sessions each in the morning and evening. Homeworks and notes are forwarded over WhatsApp,” said Usha Unnikrishnan, a teacher and executive trustee of Rajashree S M Memorial School Management.
She also added that although online education cannot replace formal school education, it has been helpful in connecting with students during the pandemic. “Even after the pandemic, we are planning to continue online classes for primary school children since they are the most vulnerable. For students from Class IX to XII, we will be starting regular classes due to restrictions in providing study material and guidance,” said Usha.
Screen time addiction a dangerous trend
Calling screen time addiction a disturbing trend among children, Dr Vivek U, psychiatrist at Renai Medicity says, “There has been a multi-fold increase in mobile and laptop addiction among children due to online classes, especially when it is not limited and extends for over two hours. Children also spend a lot of time on social media these days, which is again affecting them. The immediate result of this would be minor mental disturbances like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which if untreated, can lead to impulsive and harmful behaviour throughout their lives.” He highlights the need for a timely intervention from the parents’ side to monitor such red flags and do what is necessary.
“There has been a 50 per cent increase in the number of cases related to screen time addiction because children spend hours on devices while parents are busy juggling between their work from the home schedule and their household chores. Parents also have anxiety issues, as they have to sit with their children during online classes, and then go on with their share of time on the devices,” he adds. “Depression and also neurotic traits such as nail biting and violent behaviour can also be attributed to phone and laptop addiction. In severe cases, it can also disturb sleep pattern and cause fatigue and obesity in children,” said a psychiatrist.
Experts urge that after the pandemic settles, authorities must look at a hybrid model wherein higher class students can go to the schools where they can socialise and make friends, rather than falling prey to the virtual world.
Regular classes to begin soon
Speaking at the inauguration of the hi-tech classrooms in the state, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had said that the ongoing virtual classes through Victers Channel and other edutech platforms can never be considered an alternative to physical classes.
He added that though the current scenario is stopping the state from opening schools, they would become functional as soon as the virus comes under control. Meanwhile, officials at the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights are monitoring the schools to ensure the online classes don’t go on for more than two hours. “We received many complaints from parents regarding long online sessions. Strict action will be taken against the educational institutions flaunting such rules,” said an official with the Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights.
courtesy: The New Indian Express