Screen time of students in grades 9-12 should be capped to a maximum of three hours a day, the HRD Ministry said in a set of guidelines for online teaching it released on Tuesday for schools. The Ministry acknowledged that different areas in the country might need different strategies for online education depending on that region’s access to the digital infrastructure. The guidelines come more than three months after schools and colleges in the country were shutdown as a precautionary measure to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. “These guidelines are advisory in nature and have been prepared by [the] NCERT,” the Ministry said.

Acknowledging that both digital infrastructure and privilege to access an open internet might vary for different states and UTs, the Ministry said that a “decentralised planning and implementation is advisable for the digital education system to work, keeping in view the ground realities of each State and Union Territory”. The entire region of Jammu and Kashmir, for instance, has been deprived of access to an open internet at acceptable speeds for nearly a year now.

Guidelines from the Ministry

Two different modes of online learning on the basis of access to digital infrastructure: The report divided Indian households in six categories on the basis of availability of digital infrastructure:

  • Households with computers/mobile phones who have access to 4G internet and also to a TV with DTH or cable connection
  • Households with a smartphone with access to 4G connectivity
  • Households with a smartphone but with limited (2G/3G), or no internet connectivity
  • Households with only a TV
  • Households with a radio or a basic phone with FM functionality
  • Households with no digital devices

Based on these divisions, the Ministry suggested “two kinds of online learning and teaching that schools will need to balance based on the feasibility”, in an effort to make online education more inclusive and accessible:

  • Synchronous: This is real-time teaching with a group of online learners or even individually, and usually a teacher using a method of of instant feedback (online videos classes for example).
  • Asynchronous: The Ministry defined this as “anytime, anywhere learning” which is not happening in real time, for example, emails, SMS, MMS, surfing e-content on DIKSHA, listening to radio, podcasts, watching TV channels.

For students who have no access to digital devices:

“For a child belonging to a household [with no access to digital devices], teachers may explore contacting them via the child’s friends. After getting the contact of a student residing nearby, the teacher may explore communication channels with the household … such as identifying his/her accessibility to a mobile belonging to a neighbor. The teacher will guide the parents, child or guardians.” — Union HRD Ministry

  • MediaNama’s take: While the Ministry has acknowledged that there are students from households who don’t have access to any digital devices — due to which they can fall behind their peers — the suggestions it put forth to cater to all kinds of households seem to fall flat. It is clear that households who don’t own any digital device will find it hard to participate in both synchronous and asynchronous modes of online education, since both those mediums do require some kind of a basic digital device.

Duration of online classes capped at 3 hours per day for grades 9-12: The guidelines recommended that the duration for online classes for pre-primary students should not be for more than 30 minutes per day. For classes I to VIII, two online sessions of up to 45 minutes each were suggested and for classes IX to XII, four sessions of 30-45 minutes in duration were recommended.

Privacy and cyber safety practices: The Ministry suggested that students should be made aware about cyber bullying and “how to avoid getting bullied”. It recommended that students should be encouraged to “refrain from cyber bullying”. It also advised teachers to not share personal information, textual communications, videos or images of  students on social media for any purpose including “advocacy” and showcasing their work.

The Ministry also advised parents to keep a check on whether their child is using an “encryption software” as a way to ensure their physical and  mental well being. “Check if your child is becoming very secretive about his or her online activities. For example, not talking to you, deleting history of the internet browser, using encryption software, or quickly flicking the screen display when he/she sees you,” it said.

Karnataka HC had quashed state govt orders restricting online classes

Earlier this month, the Karnataka High Court passed an interim order staying a state government order which placed restrictions on online classes. At the same time, the court clarified that school authorities do not have a right to make online classes compulsory, and children who do not opt for it should not be deprived of normal education, as and when schools are able to resume education.