Coronavirus Pandemic: How Indian Parents Are Keeping their Children Busy as Schools Shut

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New Delhi: It has been over 10 days now since the capital city decided to shut down all primary schools. For the children of those schools, it has been days since they raced against the clock to finish their breakfast without missing the bus. There is no bus to catch.

The COVID-19 pandemic that has gripped the world forced the shutting down of markets, educational institutes, business establishments across India as well.

For children, this lockdown has been a vacation of sorts. The only difference: They are home-bound as the authorities are advising people to avoid social contact as much as possible.

Naturally, for a lot of children, the days are long and boring as they are unable to go out to the park, kick a ball around or play with their friends. Meanwhile, some children have been forced to have new hobbies: Playing a musical instrument, painting, doodling, writing-- among other things. Some of them have started enjoying these otherwise ignored indoor activities.

For parents though, it has become a herculean task to keep their very active children engaged at home. Samar Halarnkar's 9-year-old daughter often walks up to him, and asks, "What do I do now?"

Even though, Halarnkar, the editor of an online news portal, and his wife have had planned the day for their daughter-- between playing, studying, writing and watching television, these moments, he says are unavoidable.

"She wakes up early in the morning. So I take her with myself to play basketball or badminton or any other sport," he says. Halarnkar has also started the regimen of making her write an essay every morning.

On Twitter, Halarnkar shared one of the essays that his daughter had written in her new morning ritual.

“So happy daughter's school does the right kind of indoctrination. In these days of extended summer vacation and nowhere to go thanks to #CoronaOutbreak, we make her write an essay a day. This is what she wrote yesterday. (sic),” he wrote while attaching the images of her hand-written essay.

People have found novel ways of keeping children busy in productive ways. Aimen Rizvi, from Uttar Pradesh, says her two nieces, aged four and six, were sent to their grandparents-- Chholas village in Dadri-- to live with them.

The schools haven’t been shut there and the two girls have been enrolled in one of the schools just to ensure that they remain in touch with the school environment. “They are definitely missing out on syllabus, but it is fine as long as they are in the habit of waking up early, attending classes and doing homework,” Aimen says.

Some parents are also relying on online learning material. Mother of two, Nazrana Ashiq, based in Mumbai, however, believes that parents initially need to put in the effort to identify the useful resources for the children to use efficiently.

But that is not it. While online learning materials do provide a solution to complete the syllabus, the challenge for many is to keep the children disciplined. “I try to teach my niece for two hours every day, but she doesn’t see me as her teacher and it gets difficult to keep her busy and interested,” says Yasmeen Khan, based in Srinagar. Yasmeen says she even got moulding clay for her five-year-old niece to make learning fun, but nothing seems to be working.

“She misses her school and her teachers. She often asks why the schools have been closed soon after they were reopened,” Yasmeen says. Schools in Kashmir were shut since August 5, after the Centre revoked J&K’s special status, and were opened only in the last week of February. But the outbreak of Coronavirus forced the closure of schools early last week, again.

The educational institutes have been ordered to remain shut till March 31, making online lessons one of the few viable options for children. In its latest order, the authorities have announced shutting down of all educational institutes and recreational spots like gyms, museums, cultural and social centres, swimming pools and theatres.

The cases of Coronavirus infections in India touched 114 on Monday, while two others succumbed to the infection last week. In Delhi, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal ordered the closure of gyms and spas and barred the gathering of more than 50 people.

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