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Roshin George

The fun we had until 2020
The first lesson in the NCERT Grade 9 English textbook is a science fiction story called “The fun they had” by Isaac Asimov, the Russian-origin American writer. It peeps into the lives of children in a 22nd century household when virtual schooling is the order of the day and physical classrooms and books have been long forgotten. The children, now used to having the computer as the sole teacher, chance upon their forefather’s yellowed and crinkly book from over a century ago.

But we are nearer that futuristic setup now. Children log into virtual classrooms but fortunately, they are not interacting with a robot but with flesh-and-blood instructors. They can also see and hear their classmates in Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Google Meet. All thanks to a pandemic that has changed our lives beyond imagination.

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It is six months since a virus, hitherto unheard of, slowly crept into our lives and threw it haywire. The culprit coronavirus gave us the dreaded Covid 19 disease, christened a pandemic by the WHO in three months of its spread outside its country of origin, China.

It soon changed everything we were accustomed to or splurged on – from basic activities like going to school or office, a Friday prayer at the mosque or a Sunday mass at the local church to trips to shopping malls, eateries, staycations, or vacations in exotic foreign locales. Jetsetting executives now work from home and children learn from the comfort of their homes. No more setting alarms for 5 a.m., grabbing a quick bite before rushing off to the bus stop to catch the school bus as it pulled in. Mothers no longer have to wait in anticipation of the school bus ferrying home their young ones in the afternoon.

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Instead they have new roles – either sit with the little ones while the teacher gives online lessons or keep an eye on the older ones so that they don’t check videos on YouTube or play Temple Run because the lesson doesn’t interest them. And with offices reopening 100 per cent this week, at least some parents are in a dilemma – how to leave their wards unsupervised at home in the absence of schools and crèches; moreover, kids younger than 13 need mandatory adult supervision in the UAE. A bigger question is what to do with them during the imminent two-month vacation. With vacations to homelands or foreign countries out of the question in the immediate future, parents will have to find new avenues of entertainment within the four walls of homes. Music, dance, drama, and entrance coaching classes have all shifted online to keep up with Covid times.

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Home schooling is getting more popular too. Many parents are pulling their wards out of regular school and enrolling them in e-learning academies. It lightens the burden of fees in families with three to four school-going children. But who would have thought until the dawn of 2020 that virtual classrooms would become the order of the day?

Asimov will be a happy man if he were to return to earth today.