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Online Preschool in India - Pros and Cons


 Seven full months into the pandemic, it is time to address the elephant in the room - online preschool as a concept in India. I am talking here about "learning" modules for children in the age group of 2 to 4 years. Why do I call it elephant in the room, you ask? Fundamentally, for such small kids, there has been a lot of discussion about how these children are so small, that even if they miss out on schooling for this one year on account of the pandemic, it is ok. There is also, of course, the major concern on increased screen time. And the fact that children typically go to preschool for peer group interaction, and not heavy-handed learning.

These are all, of course, very valid concerns. These and many more crossed our mind as well, before we decided to take the plunge and take Morning Glorie virtual. Our own parent body knows how strongly we have advocated the screen-free environment in the past - not just for toddlers, but for children across ages. Which is why, even our daycare premises in South City I, Gurgaon, have remained screen-free all these years. We have truly believed for holistic development of children, screens are actually detrimental, and the limited exposure to them need only happen at home or in formal school, not at Morning Glorie.

Yet, we did take a supposed U-turn in our stance - we introduced online modules for our children, and we have been conducting our sessions since April 2020 - now even an activity club for children in the older age group.

There are many modes of distance learning for toddlers, and we concede there are cons to the whole idea as well as pros. Whether the pros outweigh the cons, I think every parent is taking that decision for their child, and they are the best judge for that. Here, we will try to take you through the different modes of distance learning, and pros and cons of online learning for children in the younger age group.

MODES OF DISTANCE LEARNING

ONLINE PRESCHOOL - THE LIVE AND INTERACTIVE MODULE

This is the module which is being offered by some of the preschools across the country. The classes will be conducted on Zoom or Microsoft Teams or some such other platform, in varying group sizes, in varying weekly frequencies. 

PROS

* Facilitator guided learning with feedback mechanism - you not only get a defined curriculum, there is also a two-way feedback mechanism with the facilitator. This happens in class, when the facilitator is able to gauge a child's response and respond accordingly, and also offline, when you are able to discuss in detail how you feel the activity could have been different, if the need so arises

* Peer group interaction - in whatever limited way as it may happen, children are exposed to a peer group. They are able to make friends, and also learn from each other - no pressure on any party

* Location is no bar - you have the option of trying out as many classes as you want, and choose one to your liking and as per your budgetary constraints, without having to think of the commute involved for your child. A child sitting in Agra can just as easily access a school in Delhi as in Mumbai now

* You are able to create an element of a schedule in your child's daily routine with this option. This also helps incorporate some amount of discipline - sleeping hours, meal time, play time, learning time, etc.

CONS

* Even though you may have the option of multiple batch timings, the sessions themselves happen at fixed hours. If you are a working parent, you may have to adjust your schedule to ensure that your child is able to attend the sessions, which may be difficult at times

* You are dependent on good internet connectivity - any downtime may result in you missing out on certain activities, or having a disturbed session with multiple breaks

* Screen time remains a part of your child's schedule - the pro in this, this is interactive screen time. And a good learning program will ensure that this is activity based to the extent that it seems less like screen time and more like school/fun

APP-BASED LEARNING/RECORDINGS

These could be one of the several -.

* Modules offered by preschools which are based on recordings around specific schedules.

* Learning app based modules

* Free videos available on YouTube and other online channels

PROS

* As parent, you have the flexibility to decide when to use these modules

* You can decide on the exposure to screen time and optimize it as per your judgement

* You are not dependent on you Internet connectivity at a particular point in the day

CONS

* There is still exposure to screen time which you may have wanted to avoid under ideal circumstances

* There is no facilitator based guidance to either you or to your toddler - you are fully responsible for executing the given activities

* There is typically no feedback mechanism involved - so the activities and their quality may not improve even if you would like them to

* In case of Youtube and other such channels, you will typically not be able to avail of a guided structure on a long-term basis. So you will typically have to understand learning objectives, and find activities specific to each one of them. While this may be the most cost-effective mode of learning, it involves a lot of extra effort on your part, and you may still be missing out on some important things

* Your child is missing out on interacting with people outside of the home ecosystem, including peers

LEARNING BOX BASED LEARNING

This is the module which is adopted by players like FlintoBox, MagicCrate and the many other new players that have come up. Your subscription buys you a box of activities/flashcards as curated by the agency you have chosen. You will likely get them as per your plan - monthly, quarterly and the like - along with full instructions of how to execute the activity.

PROS

* In this module, you fully eliminate exposure to screen time

* You are not dependent on any technology - no more net issues, laptop crashing issues etc

* You can use these modules as per your convenience

CONS

* The line between a teacher and a parent is fully eliminated here. The role of a teacher is typically kept separate from a parent. This has happened since times immemorial. Even during the Mahabharata, the responsibility of teaching was delegated to Gurus not the parents. Children typically respond to teachers in a different manner as compared to a parent, and there is a reason we draw the line between the two roles

* There is no peer group interaction, which at this age, is crucial for a child

* As with the earlier case, there is no feedback mechanism involved - even if you feel a certain activity needs modification, or just does not work, you can't have that changed at an individual level. You may simply choose to skip the activity of course

REMEMBER, THERE IS NO RIGHT OR WRONG

Irrespective of the medium chosen for early learning, the one constant is that children, even as young as 2 years of age, require a certain kind of stimulus, which includes learning (activities and games are also a means to learning for such young children) and peer group interaction in some form or the other. You may also need to understand whether you are considering homeschooling as a long term option, or a stop gap option to meet the unanticipated circumstances which the pandemic has forced upon us. This may help you decide whether you are moulding yourself in the role of a teacher, or whether you need external support to meet the same.

End of the day, there are no rights and wrongs, you choose what is best for your child. It could be any one of these options, or a combination of two or even all of them. Our end goal is overall well being of the children - both as parents and as educators.

At Morning Glorie, we chose to go the live and interactive route, because we truly believe that even the little children need a space and time to call their own, a space where they get to meet people outside of the family ecosystem (including their peer group), and that in our own way, we are also able to provide you some support to keep your little ones engaged in age appropriate activities, which you can also use to keep them in a screen-free environment even during the rest of the day,


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