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Digital Detox is the Need of the Hour With the Reopening of Schools Classes

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned topsy-turvy the teaching-learning process of school students for almost a year in Manipur since the second week of March last year.

In the beginning of the lockdown without knowing what to do amidst the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, all the educational institutions were also closed down totally.

Later on the established conventional teaching-learning process of schools had to be adapted to the changed situation brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. The students had to give up the physical classroom interactions with their peers and teachers.

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the learning patterns of lakhs of school students in Manipur, although school managements devised different methods of teaching-learning process using cell phones and internet. The teaching-learning process had to be continued with online or internet based classes allowing children to use cell phones in contrast to the earlier norm of banning cell phone use by students during school hours.

School authorities and parents were enthusiastic about the newly devised online or internet based classes while many teachers who were not internet savvy faced many challenges, along with poor parents struggling as they could not afford smartphones for their children.

Even though there is a digital divide between parents who can afford cell phones and those who can’t afford it, online or internet based classes, though not held uniformly, has been the only alternative to physical classroom teaching.

For almost a year, the school students have been glued to their screens for hours and the fallout though they don’t express it is digital fatigue and eye strain.

Children have spent little time outdoors and too much indoors in front of the screen. The COVID-19 lockdown has led children to ‘embrace’ technology like never before. Due to this, eye strain, dry or itchy eyes, headaches, blurred vision, and physical and mental fatigue, are common problems today.

One school principal in Imphal has acknowledged the problem, with many saying students as well as teachers have been complaining of headache, burning eyes and sleeplessness.

Here, many reports quoting experts suggest following the T-20 rule – Take regular breaks while using screens and look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes. Blinking 15 times every minute is recommended for optimal eye health because digital users constantly stare at the screen and forget to blink which causes dryness in the eye.

It is also strongly recommended viewing the smart phone at an angle below the eyebrows and never use it in a dark room and also to hold the device at a comfortable distance with a larger font and brighter screen.

Further, experts have advised that computer users should maintain a distance of 28 inches from the monitor and keep the eye level 4 to 5 inches above the centre of the screen. The ambient and overhead light brightness should also be changed to match the light in the device. There should not be any light reflecting on the screen or monitor and anti-reflective screens can help to some extent. We should use only one device at a time and forego all devices at least two hours before we go to sleep to maintain good eye health.

Meanwhile, research and survey findings also found that technology use can contribute to stress while people often feel that they can’t imagine life without their tech devices.  In the American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America survey, a fifth of U.S. adults (around 18%) cited technology use as a significant source of stress in their life.

One study conducted by researchers in Sweden found that heavy technology use among young adults was linked to sleeping problems, depressive symptoms, and increased stress levels.

Another study published in the journal Child Development found that heavy daily technology use was associated with increased risk of mental health problems among adolescents. More time spent using digital technologies was linked to increased symptoms of ADHD and conduct disorder as well.

Here, it can be said that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has not only altered the teaching-learning patterns of students with online or internet based classes becoming the new norm but has also changed the way we socialise or interact with each other. On the other hand, the children are deprived of their socialisation and learning of social skills through it.

Allowing children to use smart phones in the name of online or internet based classes, also makes them abuse it, as they spend more time on social media like Instagram or Facebook and other channels or websites harmful to the students.

Despite the fact that the Government of Manipur has officially allowed the schools to re-open for teaching-learning in physical classrooms from January 27 this year for classes 9 to 12, there are options for online learning for those who are not yet ready to go for physical classrooms. Hence, some managements of schools have devised a kind of hybrid learning where both online and offline classes are held simultaneously.

Meanwhile, the State Government has also approved and issued an order on March 3 for re-opening of schools for classes 6 to 8 from March 8, 2021 by strictly observing the SOP and Guidelines issued by the Government.

However, the SOP or the Guidelines for Re-opening schools issued by the Government of Manipur does not address Digital Detoxification.

A digital detox refers to a period of time when a person refrains from using tech devices such as smartphones, televisions, computers, tablets, and social media sites. “Detoxing” from digital devices is often seen as a way to focus on real-life social interactions without distractions. By forgoing digital devices, at least temporarily, people can let go of the stress that stems from constant connectivity.

Experts warn that a person highly needs digital detox if he:

  • feels anxious or stressed out if he can’t find his phone
  • feels compelled to check his phone every few minutes
  • feels depressed, anxious, or angry after spending time on social media
  • is preoccupied with the like, comment, or re-share counts on his social posts
  • is  afraid that he’ll miss something if he doesn’t keep checking his device
  • often finds himself staying up late or getting up early to play on the phone
  • has trouble concentrating on one thing having to check his phone

Even before COVID-19 pandemic, in many parts of the world digital detoxification was much talked about and followed. Now, digital detox has become a part of the teaching-learning process due to COVID-19 pandemic.

School managements need to devise ways to help students cope with digital fatigue by re-organising holiday schedules and limiting screen time, to holding wellness sessions and asking parents to restrict their children’s personal screen time. Parents should set an example and restrict their screen time also.

Therefore, the need of the hour as more classes are reopening in schools from March 8 and a new academic session is scheduled to start from April 5, is digital detox, not only for the students but also for teachers.

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