There must be no homework when students appear for classes online. That was the almost unanimous view of experts comprising doctors as well as a sports trainer and a special educator at a virtual discussion conducted in October by the Press Institute of India (PII) and the UNICEF State Office for Tamil Nadu and Kerala on the subject, Corona and Cornered: The Impact of the Lockdown on Children’s Health. The COVID-19 pandemic, the subsequent lockdowns, extensions and restrictions had restricted children indoors, in front of gadgets, sometimes in unsafe environments. The experts emphasised that having to do homework (to be submitted virtually) after completion of online classes would worsen the problem.
“Excessive digital time may cause behavioural changes like irritability, anxiety and fatigue,” said Dr P. Poornachandrika, director & HOD, Psychiatry, Institute of Mental Health. Younger children might cling more to parents or refuse to come out of their rooms and participate in everyday affairs, and that is the ‘red flag’ one must recognise, she pointed out. Dr Madhu Purushothaman, consultant paediatrician and chairman, Glanis Institute of Medical Sciences, Madurai, said that many of his patients had reported drastic weight gain during the lockdown owing to excessive eating and a sedentary lifestyle. He encouraged parents to take their children out in the sunlight between 11 am and 3 pm so that they did not develop Vitamin D deficiency.
Lack of exposure to sunlight was a problem not just for bone development, but also for vision, said Dr Mohan Rajan, chairman and medical director, Rajan Eye Care. He said exposure to sunlight reduced the progression of myopia (short sightedness) and the lack of sunlight worsened the condition. Dr Rajan added that prolonged viewing on digital screens had caused dryness in the eyes in children, causing them to rub their eyes more often. Dr Rajan recommended that children between ages four and seven should not have more than two online classes a day with a ten-minute break in between.
Offering solutions, N. Nilakantan, governing body member, The Madras Seva Sadan, said that there were many games that could be played while maintaining social distancing. Nandini Sridhar, parent and special educator, said emphasis should also be on children with special needs. “There is a lot of stress on the children, they get mentally tired easily now. There is no interaction with teachers or peers, which impacts their emotional security and growth. This is the time to rethink, revisit and change our educational system and return childhood to children,” she said. Parth Aryan Kaushik, a student from The PSBB KK Nagar, said that he had to start wearing eye glasses during the lockdown. “Many of my friends have been putting on weight and we feel exhausted by the end of these classes,” he said. Sanjay Pinto, advocate and columnist, moderated the discussion.