ISLAMABAD - Since the outbreak of Corona­virus, the normal lives of peo­ple have not been the same and masses are still coping with the fact that the physical presence in daily affairs has to be as minimum as possible.

However, this trend has af­fected the students’ lives in its own unique way as online or virtual learning is becom­ing the new ‘Normal’. Almost all educational institutes of the country have been provid­ing virtual lectures and classes for their students during this time period to avoid the time-lapse between the semesters. Although this solution has helped a great deal to save the educational year as a whole, yet it has brought some of its own challenges along. Stu­dents as well as teachers are faced with many obstacles on the road to learn virtually.

The biggest concern for stu­dents is internet connectivity. Students from metropolitan cities enjoyed good internet connectivity, but those liv­ing in rural and remote parts of the country faced immense problems while going virtual. Online connecting sites such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and LMS consume large amounts of data, require faster internet speed and advanced versions of phones or computers.

Besides, power outages in certain areas are also an ob­stacle for students to be able to come online for the lessons on time. Another valid con­cern was for parents who can­not afford separate phones or laptops for all the siblings at­tending the classes at the same time. According to Mehjabeen Zia, a housewife, in the begin­ning of the lockdown it was worrisome because children were wasting their time at home but after the inception of online classes it had become easier for us to make them fol­low the study routine although virtual learning that was not as effective as traditional one. 

She said, “Most of the time I have to make sure that chil­dren are attentive during the lecture as the teacher cannot pay attention to a class of 60 students through a video call. It’s not only the teacher’s re­sponsibility to ensure the ac­curacy of the method as it is new to all of us,” she said.

Sobia Kanwal, a mother and banker who has been work­ing from home, said that get­ting kids ready for online classes and making sure they were attending thorough­ly was a whole other level of struggle. She went on to say that making kids take a lec­ture from a screen was diffi­cult as compared to sending them off to school while I my­self work along with managing the household. Kiran Fareed, a chemistry teacher from Army Public School (APS) Karachi, said that managing a class of 50 students through a com­puter screen became a chal­lenge for teachers.

“Most of the time attendance of students is low because of parents’ negligence or unavail­ability of the internet. Besides, online classes from home need a proper learning environ­ment to stay focused on the lecture. However, students be­longing to the joint family sys­tem or living in small houses for large families faced diffi­culties regarding attentiveness and concentration. We cannot observe every student through the chat window if they are at­tentive or not which makes it harder to convey the lecture to the fullest,” she added.

She said although it has be­come imperative during these times to ensure continuity of studies it has also put a burden on academicians professional­ly. “We have to take classes, attendance, tests and assign­ments virtually and then we upload them on the school’s system for the records which usually consume a lot of time,” she added.

Along with technical difficul­ties and lack of communica­tion, online classes were also affecting student’s mental and physical health. Mostly chil­dren spend time on mobile and laptops as their screen-time has increased 80% more than usual. This puts strain not only on eyes but also affects cogni­tive abilities and causes atten­tion deficit among youngsters.

According to a study pub­lished in the journal Preven­tive Medicine Reports (2018), young people who spend sev­en hours or more a day on screens are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression or anxiety as those who use screens for an hour a day. Dr. Anwaar Ahmad Gul, an eye Specialist practicing in Is­lamabad, said that too much screen time is rather harm­ful for children aged under 15 and causes not only phys­ical problems but affects men­tal and behavioural health of kids as well. “Long-term ef­fects of screen addiction may include speech delay, cognitive impairment and difficulty with problem-solving and creative thinking, depression and anx­iety,” he explained. Dr Gul said although use of these gadgets by children has become inevi­table but it puts heavy respon­sibility over parent’s shoul­ders. They should set a time table for screen time and keep observing them to prevent ex­cessive usage of technology.

While most of the business­es are now partially or fully opened, educational institu­tions in most of the countries are still waiting for the ‘green signal’ from their governments to resume routine activities. Federal Minister for Educa­tion Shafqat Mahmood said in a media talk on Friday the final decision on the reopening of schools will be taken in a meet­ing of the provincial education ministers today (September 7). He also hinted at the ‘like­lihood’ of opening educational institutes from September 15 in a phased manner.