My Child left behind

 My Child left behind

Note: This post has been written over a period of 3 weeks. The reason for this had been illustrated in the last post. I implore you to bear with me and read it till the end. If you are reading this post, you are anyways smart enough to understand what I am trying to say.

A few weeks back I received a call from an old school friend of mine. His daughter is a couple of months older than Meera, so just 2+ at that time. He wanted to know what I was doing about Meera’s education. If the world would not have been disrupted by the COVID pandemic, both Meera and his daughter would have started going to some playschool by now. But now that all playschools and preschools are closed due to COVID that is no longer an option and he wanted to know whatever I was doing about Meera’s Education. I will not lie - I panicked a little after that call. I was not doing anything about Meera’s education formally at that time. Sure we were teaching her new things all the time, a fact greatly enhanced by the fact that Meera has taken to books really well and likes to be read to more than anything. But there is no pedagogical structure to our method (I won’t call it a process). There is no set curriculum or testing methodology to see how well the whole learning thing is going. I won’t say that I was totally ignorant about “the need to start the education process” for Meera until then but this call made me question the decision that I had made to delay it until things got back to normal. Or normal-ish.

Online classes for toddlers

Having been part of the startup world for a very long time I am very fortunate to have a lot of friends in the Ed-Tech world. I got in touch with Atul, the founder of Hello Parent to get a little more guidance about what all options I had about Meera’s education. With Hello Parent, Atul was probably the best person to ask for help at that time as he had been closely working with preschools and playschools for a very long time. He told me that all the preschools have now started online classes for their students. All of them. He recommended me to look for the best school near my home where I would want Meera to eventually continue her K-12 as well and enroll her in the ongoing online classes. He also appraised me of the fact that in these times most of the schools are very open to negotiation when it comes to fees and I could save a good deal of money if I negotiated. Most of the schools were giving trial classes and he recommended that I take those before making a decision.

Well, that wasn’t very helpful. Rather this new information actually exacerbated my confusion and panic. Now if you know me or have read my recent works (this one specifically) I am strictly against exposing my daughter to screens any more than necessary. I worked really hard, still actually am, to De-addict her from Youtube and am extremely wary of doing anything that might cause a relapse. The news that I will have to deliberately expose her to screens for “education” did not really sit well with me. The bigger cause for panic at this point was that I didn’t think that Meera was capable of attending zoom classes in any way that would be productive to her. I don’t think any two year old is. But then the classes are still going on which means this is working well for many kids.

Or is it?

I reached out to a lot of fellow parents to get a sense of what they were doing and how their kids were faring with online education if they went that way. Fortunately, most of the parents whose kids were around Meera’s age were on the same boat as me and were not pushing their kids to take classes. The one’s who were doing the whole online classes thing confirmed that there is absolutely no discernable value add from the entire process, especially for a toddler. Most of the time the child would play with themselves only not paying attention to anything that’s happening on the screen. The situation is not very different for older kids. Most of the parents I spoke to and apparently TOI spoke to agree that online learning is a poor substitute to the actual schools and most of the kids are not responding well to it. There are kids who leave the class after a couple of minutes to kids who try to sleep late the previous night so that they can avoid the class the next morning. Parents like me who have ensured that their kids stayed away from phones and other screens till now are concerned that all their work will go waste if their kids have to be exposed to screens.

But then why are we doing all this? Why are schools and all the apps that advertise to us daily selling online education doing that? And why do we as parents put our kids go through this all? Let’s look into the supply side first.

I will not talk about these particular times when online classes are the only available option to schools and they have no choice but to conduct those in order to ensure there is no break in the students’ studies and they continue to get fees. Let’s talk about the introduction of tech in education in general. Schools, in the end, are like any other service providing business that needs to ensure that they get as many clients (students in this case) to remain profitable. Now when the parents, who usually want to send their kids toasdf1234 the best possible schools, are exploring all the options for their kids they will look at all the features and amenities the schools provide and which school has better offerings. These amenities vary from airconditioned buses to low teacher to student ratio to well - latest technology for enhancedemphasized text pedagogy. You pick up any newspaper, find the first school ad and you will see what I mean. Every school now is boasting of “smart equipped classes”, “dedicated computer time”, “smart tablets for homes” and many more things that basically mean that we will use technology to teach your kids so please pay your fees to us if you want the best education for your child. Schools include technology to improve their offerings. Parents buy into this because they simply assume that using technology is going to obviously improve the quality of education. Neither the school nor the parents try to ask the question, “Is technology in classes even a good idea? Is there going to be any improvement in the child which can be attributed to technology?”

There is absolutely no scientific proof that the introduction of technology in classes improved learning or even grades in any way. A major factor here is that all the new technology like tablets and smartphones are well - new. The iPad is only 10 years old and the iPhone is barely 13. These periods are way too short for anyone to do proper scientific studies about the advantages, or the disadvantages, of using technology in classes. Whatever few studies that exist out there still point in the general direction that there is absolutely no major benefit of early or even the late introduction of technology in the learning process. Even the proponents of tech in education point to the same lack of conclusive studies to dismiss the claims made against their point.

Now it does seem kind of obvious that introducing technology in education should be beneficial for our kids only. Clearly, with all the facts, references, and explanations at their fingertips, they should have a much better, streamlined, and easier learning process. The super illustrative videos that BYJUs show in their ads to teach Pythagoras theorem should any day be a better learning vehicle for our kids compared to anything that we ever had( R.S Aggarwal and a teacher with a cane). Our kids are anyways spending all their time in front of laptops and mobile phones so why not use these “tools” for their betterment only. What the big argument against tech in education? Why shouldn’t my kid be “Wolf Gupta”?

The idea that there are newer, better ways of learning things is true for every generation. Our generation had access to better tools and processes than our parents and Meera’s generation has access to better tools and processes than ours. This was true for our parents who had it harder than us and is true for us as well. Everything is supposed to become easier, more streamlined, and faster with advancements in technology. And a parent would be right to assume that the faster their kids get used to and adept with the said technologies, the sooner they will gain the edge over the competition. And if you are someone who comes from a Tier II or Tier II city, or a village, who had to really work hard to break out of your small towns and villages to make a living in the big cities, having faced many more difficulties than someone like me, who was born and brought up in the national capital in a fairly good household - You know how important it is to have an edge in this cut-throat world and what happens to those who are left behind. It is easy to confuse that since technology is the future, we are doing our kids a favor by exposing them to technology as early as possible.

Online classes for toddlers
I am sure you personally know someone who boasts of how their toddler is well versed with the art of the smartphone and how they can operate it so well. Sure, it looks immensely impressive to see a 3-year-old take a smartphone, unlock it, find the app they were looking for, and navigate through all the menu options with ease. Especially so if you compare that with yourself at 3 years old. That looks like a major achievement and we kind of feel like taking credit for enabling the kid in the process of achieving it. This is where we all go wrong. Confusing proficiency in using technology with using technology for benefit. Early exposure to any piece of tech would mean the child getting proficient in using that. You and I were as proficient in using tech at this age as Meera is today. Tech was different then but whatever was there, we were good at using it. Do not be confused by the idea that being able to unlock an iPhone and opening the Youtube app is in any way different or harder than going to the black and white tv set and turning the channel tuning dial until you got the signal.

What we need to realize now that this is, in a true sense, unchartered territory. A generation that was born and brought up with the internet and 24-hr connectivity and screens is yet to come out. There are few very long term studies out there that can truly tell us how beneficial or harmful early exposure to tech in education is going to be for our kids. Until then we have to rely on the data that we have. Data about the effects of exposure to screens. I wrote about this in great depth in one of my most talked about posts here - Breaking out of the ‘Baby Shark’ trap so I will not go into much detail here but here’s the summary.

Brain imaging studies have shown that excessive screen exposure can neurologically damage a child’s brain in the same way COCAINE ADDICTION does.

Screen Addiction

Without even knowing that these technological initiatives in education are going to bear any fruit or not, we would be doing our kids a major disservice by handing them tools that can literally turn them into addicts at worse or behaviorally modified by tech giants at best.

Let me be honest here. I do not claim to be a super parent. I don’t believe or claim that I know what is good for your kid better than you. But there is one thing I can claim with 100% conviction - I am trying to learn everything I can to give Meera a better chance at being a good, balanced person. I do not think that my child will be left behind if I do not enroll her in the rat race of early prep and forced technology. What’s the worse that could happen - she will reach her destination a little later than everyone else. If she enjoyed the journey to this destination, I think it would be worth it.

I am not putting Meera in any online class for now.

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I have helped many startups in building their products and I would be happy to have a chat with you about your idea. Catch me on twitter at @akhilrex