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India advises schools to limit online instruction to 2-3 hours a day

Amy Kazmin in New Delhi

The Indian government has advised schools to limit online instruction for children below the age 13 to just two hours a day, and for older students to just three hours a day, as the country starts a new school year with the coronavirus pandemic still raging.

The restrictions, which are advisory in nature but likely to be adopted by many schools, highlight the heavy price that children are paying for authorities’ failure to control the virus.

Yet the inability to safely reopen schools barely figures in public debate as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government attempts to persuade citizens that the country has fared far better than many advanced nations in its battle against the virus.

India, with the third-highest confirmed coronavirus burden in the world, now has more than 935,000 known infections, and the recorded daily caseload is steadily rising, hitting new daily records, with nearly 30,000 new cases now being added every day.

India’s new academic year has started in July, but schools remain shuttered as they have been since March, with little indication as to when they reopen. Expensive private schools have returned to online education, however, as they try to limit the disruption to children’s learning.

In the new guidance, New Delhi has warned of the importance of limiting screen time and called on schools to find new methods to teach children. The government is also advocating that parents play a larger role in helping teach children or that local volunteers, neighbours or peers should help parents who are unable to do the job.

India’s education system was already failing to deliver even before the pandemic. Studies have repeatedly shown a large percentage of children, particularly in remote rural areas and crowded urban slums, were failing to master basic foundational skills such as reading and basic maths.

The inability to reopen schools — and the shortage of online devices in many working-class families — is expected to further widen India’s educational divide.

Since March, the Indian government has also advised that children under the age 10 of should not step outside at all.

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