India is currently dealing with an almost apocalyptic reality, with the ongoing pandemic, a crushing economy, and a crumbling democracy. In the past seven months, India has gone from lockdowns and migrant crisis, to unjust student arrests and irrational debates over a celebrity’s death. One can track the rapid changes in India’s socio-political climate by just glancing at all the major headlines in these past months. However, despite this continuous upheaval, a very crucial system of our society has remained ignored—our education system.
After continuous resistance from students and parents alike, schools and colleges did not open up for the new session. Instead, they switched to digital education. While India has been hopping onto the digital learning train for the past few years now, it is still far from mastering the medium. In trying times like these, it would seem a bit entitled to criticize this arrangement, however considering its real effects on the people involved and the uncertain time limit, a little critical analysis might prove worthy.
At the outset, there are some very obvious problems: poor infrastructure, economic inequality, language barrier, and the sheer disconnect between practical subjects and online teaching.
However, amidst the online education debate in India, along with the aforementioned challenges, a very crucial addition should be difficulties faced by neurodivergent students.
As someone with ADHD and clinical anxiety disorder, online classes have proven to be extremely burdensome. A chat with fellow neurodivergent students was enough to make me believe that this is not a superficial concern. While systemic difficulties have the greatest impact on students, a rather insignificant seeming but incredibly tough obstacle to overcome is dealing with our mental health while adjusting to online classes.
The technical problems bring with themselves emotional and psychological hardships, which are neglected under the looming shadow of exams, and an uncertain future.
Students with learning disabilities, specifically the ones with ADHD and Autism spectrum Disorder, are often the hardest hit. People with ADHD usually operate well with external systems regulating their day. Very insignificant activities like walking to college, switching classrooms and face to face interaction help people with ADHD fruitfully spend their day. However, due to the pandemic, all of our external systems have fallen out of place, resulting in our entire day blending into one big sum of undifferentiated hours.
While online classes allow freedom and flexibility, this can often backfire on people with ADHD. This means the chances of procrastination become higher, and accountability becomes zero. Since classes require sitting at one place for hours and clicking from one link to another, it results in a lack of stimulation which is said to increase dissociation and absent-mindedness.
Teachers, even though have moved to an entirely different medium, continue the same ways of teaching. The classes are often one-sided and almost give the feel of an audiobook, which becomes monotonous and lengthy for an ADHD brain that otherwise prefers short sentences and categorization.
Another strong ADHD feature that overlaps with online classes is that of organization. ADHD brains have difficulty in organizing and scheduling their work. Teachers often send loads of readings, long paragraphs and expect them to be read and understood within a day. Once you couple that with assignments, it becomes even more difficult to keep up.
The ADHD brain gets easily overwhelmed as compared to “normal” brains. The constant anxiety that there might be a forgotten assignment to submit constantly pushes us away from approaching online classes in a positive manner.
Along with ADHD, anxiety and depression have also been some of the oft-spoken disorders that have been overlapping with online education.
“Please speak a little louder”
“Please turn your camera on”
These sentences are the worst nightmare for someone suffering with anxiety. While it is understandable why professors demand cameras be switched on, it cannot be seen without its own set of implications.
Students with anxiety have told me how they are never able to focus when their camera is on as they are constantly busy obsessing over their gestures and controlling certain ‘tics’. Most of the time they are too scared to ask questions and end up missing important concepts only to save themselves from embarrassment.
More importantly, a student’s ‘home life’ is very personal. It is important that a student feels their privacy is respected and is able to focus on learning without being bothered about their living condition. A lot of times, it is not possible for a student to arrange a separate room, sit for multiple hours, and keep track of everything every day. Some of them dedicate the majority of their time and energy into household chores and do not have the luxury that online classes expect. Other than that, internships and personal struggles drain so much of students’ energy that it hardly leaves space for school/college.
A quick search on any social media platform, will give enough feedback to show the ineffectiveness of online classes. In order for online classes to be successful in the long-run, it is important that teachers make them as inclusive as possible. While larger issues will still take a long time to be fully tackled, we can immediately act upon problems like these:
- It would help greatly if teachers allowed flexibility and moved with the syllabus at a slower pace.
- Teachers can also open communication by asking students to mail any grievances that hinder their learning experience via email.
- Live classes can be recorded and posted on Google classroom for later access.
- Before starting the class, a quick recap of the last class and detailed classification of day to day lesson can greatly help neurodivergent brains.
- The teaching format should be made multilingual, discussion-oriented, and colloquial. Instead of reciting paragraphs from readings or using long sentences, it would be better if concepts are broken down into simpler forms.
- It would also help, if turning cameras on could be left to the choice of students. If a student mentions their problem, it shouldn’t be minimized or taken lightly.
While highlighting students’ issues, it is important to mention that students aren’t the only ones struggling. A lot of teachers are adapting to the changing mode of teaching and students also need to co-operate in order to make online education successful.
Together, we need to build an environment that is compassionate and accommodating of the current socio-political realities as well as a form of support in these challenging times.