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Digitised Future? Shall we accept it?

A friend who has no children (not out of choice mind you!), a very successful entrepreneur whose worked globally contributing to the efforts of several relief organisations for children very candidly asked me yesterday about the hue and cry about ‘education and fees’. What’s the real narrative she asked me, because according to her (from media reports she had read) it seems that the pitch to ban ‘online’ learning is because “parents do not perceive this as education!” She and I value AI and its scope of customisation and personalisation not to mention efficiency, and we have been talking about how the countries that will succeed tomorrow will be those with digital power to boost economic growth, so she was surprised with this development in the education space about resisting technology.

She’s a sensible one, not to be fooled by the public vs private debate agreed with Gurcharan Das’s piece about ‘double-speak’ in TOI on Monday (please read it if you have not already) that to progress as a nation, we will need to empower private sector education to do more, and scale up the public sector. One cannot pull the other down! So she said, “leaving that debate aside, fees are linked to parental perception that online education is not school?”

Well, that’s just it. Parents have claimed openly that they are undergoing financial crisis, and therefore need some respite paying fees. What are they paying fees for they ask? No physical classrooms, no activities, no co-curriculars, no admin and maintenance costs, so if not 100 percent, there must be concessions given that all of the above is missing?? When Delhi HC (one of the first few courts in action with this in April/May) rejected this plea, and directed parents to pay as long as education was happening online, the new movement was about parents demanding that online education be banned because ‘it was not the same, okayish, children were not really attentive, they needed help with home-work, will the portion be completed worries etc etc’ and from that it moved to not sending children to school till a vaccine is found to not paying fees whatsoever for the year, because they were happy to treat this as a ‘gap’ year. How much damage can no education for a year cause?? And what’s the big deal? There are online apps, options available, kids will remain engaged and they will survive. The narrative kept changing as the ball rolled forward.

Owner’s explanation about rent payments, honouring teacher increments and paying full salaries including house keeping and all outsourced vendors, (co-curricular team members and companies have been paid) despite not increasing fees that parents had agreed to pay in March, bank EMI’s, infra upgrades half way complete, maintenance costs (by the way, these double when the property is lying vacant for so long), IT upgrade (these have not been cheap), training training, other taxes and charges to the government that have seen no adjustments fell to deaf ears. The assumption that schools ‘make money’ was the response to all the facts presented.

So for those parents who truly believe in the gap year and do not trust their school management, I have only this to share – Go ahead and make a decision and be happy.

Go ahead find all the age appropriate apps that cater to the holistic development not to mention socio emotional learning and life skills. Go ahead and spend a lot more than you would have paid your school to do this (because how can your child be left behind?), go ahead and dedicate that much time to the online learning via different apps (because your kids will still not understand and need assistance in completing tasks but that recorded video will not be able to guide them), and do not worry about screen time, and go ahead and be ready when the schools open again, start the process of zero again …. restart because no school will be able to work with a child who is not at the functional level of the grade. Go ahead think about now, and not worry about tomorrow. Cross that bridge when you reach it. Be happy. But those who wish to work with their schools, can schools be allowed to function so that those parents have someone to turn to because they do not want to do this alone?

Some thoughts:

As parents, we plan decisions based around our children’s well being and education right? We consciously decide about the choice of school, and factor in the financial planning in that way. Everything was/else should be peripheral? Because we set that aside as the core – education is a stepping stone right?

So as my friend pointed out, ‘you mean to say Fatema, people made a choice to put their child in that school, knew about the fees, did not plan for it, and now want concessions because they did not plan?? Is that fair?’

Well I always say, every family is different and perhaps circumstances are different. But I know everyone who anticipated many things this year, are faced with tough times as work has not kick-started in the way that they had planned. Everyone is scratching and scapping at the moment. Everyone. And that is a fact. Some harder hit than others. But then if you equate education with luxury and focus only on essentials with is take-away food etc, you will never plan for education is the way it is meant to be.

As parents, the only thing we can give our child is solid education and hope that it gives him/her enough to create the path ahead. So for us, personally trusting the school and partnering their journey ahead with online or physical learning comes naturally.

The concept of virtual learning in our heads is learning because we have seen how hard the teachers research, the long hours they put in, the effort they make to improvise and the dedication to make sure our child understands age appropriately. And trust me, our children are not easy.

I have the pleasure of being a mother and an educator and I know how challenging it is to work with every age group and optimise the time we have with them. Their every mistake at times is a huge journey that often emotionally drains teachers but they keep it.

Also, virtual teaching requires more effort and energy. Let’s get that fact out of the way as well. It is time everyone recognises that it is not about the platform or some pre corded app, or some smart board …. static and one dimensional apps are not teaching. The sessions where teachers are connecting, coaxing and guiding, getting kids into groups, and checking in on them … that is true engagement and yes parents, we are paying for this which is human connect missing from those apps.

There is a hearing in Supreme Court today, and I for one hope for a positive stance like the Nagpur High Court supported online learning as a means of seamless engagement with children by experts who are trained to do it scientifically. The petitioners were warned that it would be against national interests for people to oppose on line learning.

Well, instead of opposing, understand that 12 months in lockdown, your children will need stimulation and this needs to be handled by experts who are qualified. Seamless learning is possible and future will include blended learning as the way to learn.

Make the choice for your child. Your future. Think wisely and embrace technology, for our future has a big part of it digitised.


Fatema Agarkar

Founder, Agarkar Centre of Excellence Veteran of 3 educational start-ups – is now a Founder of Agarkar Centre of Excellence, Fatema’s passion for teaching-learning and children defines the different roles she has crafted – as an edupreneur, educator and mentor.

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