The recent arrest of actor Shahrukh Khan’s 23-year-old son, Aryan Khan, in the drug attack case has sparked a nationwide debate about the role and responsibility of parents towards children in the face of new challenges and complications arising from a crisis caused by the rapidly changing times, especially in these pandemic days.
Quite a few people wasted no time calling Mr. Khan a “failed father” (how successful they are as parents is another question entirely). The actor’s position is additionally jeopardized by the fact that he is a brand ambassador for an online learning app that preaches ideal parenthood and promises to turn parents into partners. Under public pressure, the brand eventually withdrew its app with Mr Khan’s ads, as if his absence would stop the brand’s decline in popularity, thereby lessening the harmful effects of such discourses on people.
This superficial and limited understanding of reality by the masses is what makes the job of companies selling ideas through popular media such as advertising, films, etc., using symbols to gain and profit from sociocultural acceptance of a brand, easier. Therefore, a deeper understanding of events and realities, especially those that have or may have long-term effects on the social psyche, is essential in order to provide collective and timely resistance to ideas and values that can permanently damage a rational system.
The effects of online education on students and their parents and the changing value systems of our society must be understood in this context. It would be easier to understand how a brand creates public acceptance for their products by strategically influencing public opinion and manipulating widely used vocabulary in society if we were to take one of Byju’s online learning app’s most watched TV commercials more seriously read. with whom Mr. Khan is associated as a brand ambassador.
This commercial shows a middle-aged father playing table tennis with his growing daughter, who is a dedicated Byju customer. Apparently the commercial is harmless and shows a happy Indian family. However, a closer look at the house, which is well equipped with visibly expensive tapestries, appliances and furniture, allows a viewer to see far beyond the game and the happy conversation between the two.
The urban setup and the presence of these costly possessions within the large space clearly signal the class position of consumers of knowledge and skills sold on virtual learning platforms such as Byju. The fact that the entire system was designed with the special needs of families in mind, in which working parents, due to their urgent work schedule (including home office in the new normal situation), can hardly spend time raising their children with traditional means and forms, is clearly visible in the commercial .
The screen of the advertisement clearly shows the exclusive character of the new education system, in which there is no room for modern Ekalavyas. The contempt for traditional learning methods has been expressed through the use of books as a “net” in their table tennis game! Thus, the switch from book-based learning to technology-based learning has been intelligently presented in the display through the clever use of books as a kind of waste material. The commercial seeks to establish the magical power of these online tools that can dispel parents’ tensions and fears by taking on all parental responsibilities for their children’s education.
In this way, the “liberated” parents can live up to their parental responsibility by simply giving away one or two expensive electronic devices or, at best, playing table tennis with them for a while. In this way, this new form of technology-based education promises to liberate parents and turn them into partners.
Should we then unequivocally consider this rhetoric to be the truth, or should we try to question the agenda behind promoting such “truths”? There is no denying that a system cannot last long and effectively unless it accepts the rapidly changing realities of its time and redefines its strategies according to the basic needs and principles of those realities.
Also, there is no denying that the process of introducing newer modes needs to be sped up when the world experiences major shifts in all sorts of areas due to an unexpected catastrophe like the ongoing pandemic. Like other affected areas, education has had to develop new strategies to survive in the face of a medical disaster that is followed by other disasters. It would be a fallacy to believe that the use of technology in education and research is a post-Covid phenomenon. Technology-based online teaching-learning has made serious advances in education, particularly in vocational training, since the beginning of the last decade.
It has become increasingly popular in other areas of education in recent years. However, the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns opened the floodgates for the use of technological tools in teaching, study and research. The corporations that control these markets sensed the possibility of making unbridled profits in this area by cleverly changing the definition of knowledge and the goal of education.
In doing so, they have used the popular culture industry quite successfully to coerce people into trustworthy ideas that seem to be quite attractive to a certain section of our society that is the consumer class for this online education.
Given the socio-economic status of this consumer class, the media and advertising agencies have developed an elite vocabulary in which the well-known are redefined to serve the interests of this wealthy class alone. In doing so, they themselves redefine fundamental human relationships, such as the relationship between father and daughter, which ultimately changes the definitions of ideal parenthood and responsibility for purely economic reasons. That is where the greatest danger lies.
This new educational mode excludes large numbers of learners from the teaching-learning process, as this mode is only tailored to the academic needs of those who are fortunate enough to have problem-free internet connections at home and can afford the cost. The striking reality of this digital learner gap became evident once more when the UNICEF-ITU report revealed the bitter truth that two-thirds of school-age children worldwide do not have internet access at home.
The obvious consequence of this widening gap would be that millions of learners will be forced to leave this new system and most of them have no choice but to enter the disorganized sector as cheap labor or, if they are lucky, one to make skilled training workers, having somehow managed to get vocational training. The situation of girls is certainly much worse than that of boys as they are double-bullied. This is sure to cause irreparable damage to the world of education and the future of our generations to come. In the long run, this system will not spare the standard-bearers of its ideologies either. The systematic use of technology in education is one thing; the corporatization of the whole system is another.
The sooner parents understand the difference, the better it will be for their children’s future. Otherwise, instead of turning into partners, the parents will turn into permanent parasites.
(The author is Assistant Professor at the English Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata)