Mahiruh Irfan has an opinion on most matters: cartoons, “why pink is the best colour” and – as the country discovered – why online learning can be traumatic for a five-year-old.
In a video that went viral, Mahiruh had addressed the Prime Minister and said, “Why do madam and sir give so much work to small children who are six years old? From the time I wake up till 2 o’clock, I have continuous classes – English, math, Urdu, EVS and then computers. Why do they give so much work to little children, Modi saab?” By Monday, Mahiruh’s appeal was doing the rounds of Facebook and Twitter and was even being discussed on audio platform Clubhouse.
The video did the trick: On Tuesday, the UT administration decided that online classes for Classes 1 to 8 would be held for not more than 90 minutes and over two sessions. For senior grades, Class 9 to 12, online classes would be limited to three hours.
Responding to a tweet that had shared Mahiruh’s video, J&K Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha had on Monday directed the School Education department to frame a policy to help school children deal with the stress of online learning.
On Tuesday, announcing the administration’s decision to reduce the duration of online classes, Sinha said, “Pre-primary on a given day for interacting with parents shall be only 30 minutes. Concerned authorities to ensure the strict implementation. Homework up to class 5th should be avoided. Authorities and schools to plan joyful learning experiences engaging parents as well. Our children need more time to play, interact with parents, the biggest learning experience a child can have.”
For someone who had effected such a major policy shift, the Class 1 “red section” student of Minto Circle School began shyly as she spoke about online classes, her teachers and her subjects. “I like maths… ones and tens,” she says, fiddling with her mask, at their home in Srinagar’s Batmaloo area.
But Mahiruh soon warms up, saying that on Sunday, when “everyone was busy”, she had taken her mother’s phone and recorded the video “just for nanihal (maternal grandparents)”.
Mahiruh’s mother Rukhsar, a homemaker, adds that she later uploaded the video as a status message on WhatsApp, after which it took on a life of its own. And Mahiruh added another word to her vocabulary: viral. “Viral means when everyone gets the message on WhatsApp,” she says.
“Does she know Modiji”, Mahiruh’s father, Irfan Ahmad Bhat, who works as a manager at a construction company in Srinagar, asks her teasingly. “He is the Prime Minister and he has a white beard now,” she quips.
The video may have an unintended consequence, though. “Her phone time will be cut now that she made this video without checking with me,” Rukhsar jokes.