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Online classes have spoilt dignity and decorum of classroom environment: PIL in Madras HC to stop unregulated online classes amid COVID-19

The petitioner has questioned the effectivity of such online classes, while also contending that its unregulated conduct has led to deepening societal inequities and students being exposed to online pornography.

Meera Emmanuel

A Chennai-based parent has moved the Madras High Court for restraining the conduct of online classes for students amid the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown.

The petitioner has questioned the effectivity of such online classes, while also contending that its unregulated conduct has led to deepening societal inequities and students being exposed to online pornography.

The PIL moved by Saranya S through advocate R Krishna Kumar states,

"Online classes have spoilt the dignity and decorum of a classroom environment. (They) have far reaching consequences in the learning habits and discipline required for the students while attending the classes."

It is argued that the online teaching system presently employed in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis is riddled with several fundamental flaws that have not been addressed. In this regard, the following issues are highlighted:

  • On unequal access: Several users are unable to go online as only 8% of homes with young members have computer with net link. Rooted structural imbalances between the rural and urban students, male and female, rich and poor have become exposed. Only privileged students, with access to smartphones and strong internet connections can properly access the classes. Only priveleged students are able to pay additional fees imposed for the conduct of online classes.

  • Scope of supervision is alarmingly limited: As a result online exploiters are in a convenient position to derail the students' lives. Several parents have complained of pop up advertisements and adult website redirects during live class sessions. This has caused several students to exit the class and watch unwarranted explicit content on the internet. Several hackers also systematically exploit vulnerabilities in websites and spoil the students.

  • Online learning not suited for all students: Whereas there may be students who are genuinely using the online learning system to advance their knowledge, it is contended that most get distracted given the unlimited options to explore on the internet. Online learning works best for self-motivated students or where a person has special interests that they want to expand on. Distance learning may not be the best choice for students who want ample peer and faculty interaction, who learn better through audio and visual aids, or who tend to procrastinate on assignments. Distance learning does not work for all students.

  • Students may circumvent the system: Students who know the knack of handling the system are able to log into classes and remain absent conveniently and the teacher will have no idea whether there is active participation from every student in the class.

The petitioner goes on to contend that such lapses are "ignored for the sake of convenience and just to ensure that the tutoring hours are covered."

She adds that if no real counter measures are adopted to ensure the effective attendance of all students during online classes, then the classes offered simply allows students to while away their time in the guise of attending classes.

Further, it is argument that if governments continue the online education without necessary supportive measures, the prevailing disparity in the virtual world could translate into widening educational inequalities among learners.

Another allied concern raised is the cost implications of online learning, particularly when the Government has not announced any intent to reimburse the students for the additional use of internet services or to subsidise data packs. This assumes more significance since many families have lost their income amid the COVID-19 lockdown.

It is also noted that there are challenges being faced by teachers as well, who are not used to an online environment.

In this backdrop the petitioner goes on to submit that while the current situation is unprecedented, “we should be careful of advocating inappropriate, inegalitarian and discriminatory strategies to deal with it.”

“The issue is not of a few weeks of online teaching and online exams. The real question is whether we are letting in the proverbial nose of the camel into the tent. Once it is there, there is no stopping the beast from taking over. Reduced commitment of the state to invest in public education and promotion of the online model instead might just be the logical result", the petition states.

In this backdrop, the petitioner has prayed for the Court to direct that the conduct of online classes be halted until proper guidelines are framed under the Information Technology Act, 2000 and its Rules to ensure the overall safety in conducting such classes.

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