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Post COVID: How kids are transitioning from screen to school

education | Nov 14, 2022 10:04 PM IST

Post-COVID: How kids are transitioning from screen to school


While excessive screen time was prevalent even before the pandemic, lockdowns and school closures compounded it. CNBC TV18 got experts to dissect children’s difficult passage back to offline school life from 'virtual' solitude. While the problems are complex, the solutions — like activity-based learning and park visits — are simple and old-school, requiring diligent parent and teacher participation.

Children, just like adults, are finding it tough settling back to their old daily routine post the pandemic. Going back to real school has become an angst-ridden ordeal for some. Teachers too are part of this complex return to reality. The continuing challenge is not just to undo two years of pandemic issues but also to prepare the kids for the future.

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Back to offline mode

A Mumbai-based teacher said, “We were happy to have connected with the children in classrooms – after months of online lessons. But we ended up facing a situation – where children are not just socially anxious but are struggling with a lower level of confidence.”

No doubt, children were excited to be back to school. But every child reacted in a different way. Vrushanki Karia, a counsellor at Orchids International, said, “Few of them were excited to come to school and few of them were trying to settle down. Students who were younger had more problems settling in but they settled in faster. This is because the curriculum was activity-based. I think the transition was tough but they got a break from the tech they were using.”

She added that younger students took longer to adjust than older ones, but they too have adjusted. Initially, children were not seeking help but now increasing numbers are approaching teachers and counsellors with their problems.

While many institutions saw the positives of online education, Dr Dheeraj Shah, Director and professor of paediatrics at the University College of Medical Sciences, said online learning is not the normal way of learning.

“It should only supplement and not replace in-person learning. Two-way communication, eye contact, peer interaction and a controlled environment of offline learning have definite advantages for the child's optimal learning and development.”

Dr Shah noted that schools realised the harmful effects of excessive screen use once the children went offline.

Changes in behavioural pattern

Social anxiety, distraction and irritability were some common symptoms that children developed during the pandemic and this was more evident when they were brought to the classrooms – making it difficult for teachers to engage with children. There were bouts of depression among children as well.  To stop kids from getting distracted, schools and teachers ensured activity-based curriculum took centre-stage. 

N.N. Raju, President of Indian Psychiatric Society, said,Some children become attention-deficit. This can have a long-term impact.” He added, “We are still not in a position to say what will happen in the next two or three years down the line, but I am certain there will be an effect.”

During the COVID pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, children had access to different types of devices. To calm down an irritable child, parents readily let them use smartphones, laptops and other devices. To top it all, schools went online, making devices the norm.

Dr Shah added, “A global review of 89 studies suggests that there is a considerable increase in screen time among children during the pandemic, with the maximum increase seen in children aged 6-10 years and adolescents.”

An increase in screen time was reported for about two-third of children, and the average increase was about one hour per day.

Excessive screen time & mental well-being

Excessive screen time was prevalent even before the pandemic, but the lockdowns and disruption of schooling compounded it.

Various studies pointed out that several unfavourable correlates were reported to be associated with an increase in screen time in both adults and children, including mental health correlates. 

Dr Shah said, “Children with excessive screen time are at a higher risk of delayed language development, and learning/reading problems, leading to poor school performance. Adult-directed content can promote anti-social and aggressive behaviour among children and adolescents. Also, excessive screen time causes lesser sleep and poor sleep quality, which also leads to mental health problems in children. Poor interaction with parents and peers due to excessive indulgence in the virtual world also leads to less resilience to deal with stressful situations.”

Apart from emotional and mental health problems, excessive screen time results in obesity due to less physical activity and excessive consumption of high-calorie foods while watching the screen. 

Children are prone to cyberbullying and exposure to adult content, exposing them to the risk of violence and substance abuse. Eye problems (watering, refractive errors) and bone problems (backache) due to unhealthy postures are other common issues with excessive screen time.

Dealing with the problem

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that children up to one year old should not spend any time on digital screens, including watching videos or playing games. For children aged 2-4 years, sedentary screen time should be no more than one hour a day, and even less is better.

A task force of the Indian Academy of Paediatrics (IAP), which works for child welfare in the country, was constituted to review the evidence related to the effects of screen time and issue guidelines and recommendations towards ensuring digital wellness. 

Dr Shah, Convenor of IAP guidelines, said they were introduced due to correlates between excessive screen time and physical, developmental and emotional problems.

Parents need to set an example by serving as role models to bring their children back to the parks, playgrounds and schools, Dr Shah said.

His appeal to his fraternity is that doctors need to be aware of the problem and its adverse effects, must ask about the child's screen habits and counsel the parents accordingly. “Governments should also consider the digital wellness of children as a priority and should conduct advocacy campaigns,” he suggested.

Prachi Makwana, a counsellor at Orchids International, said one of the best ways to address this issue is by being open about the ill effects of screen time and how adults are also facing the issue. “Using ‘we’ in the conversation will help children to associate with it. It's a constant struggle,” she said.

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