The Madras High Court on Tuesday called for a report from the Dean of Regional Institute of Ophthalmology and the Government Ophthalmic Hospital at Egmore on the possible strain that could be caused to the eyes of children when they attend online classes for prolonged hours, during the ongoing lockdown to fight COVID-19.
Justices R. Subbiah and Krishnan Ramasamy directed State Government Pleader V. Jayaprakash Narayanan to obtain the report at the earliest. The interim order was passed on a public interest litigation petition filed by advocate M.A. Vimal Mohan. He had sought for a direction to restrict the duration of online classes for two hours a day.
Arguing the case, his counsel J. Ravindran told the court that many schools in the State were now conducting online classes for all students, from kindergarten level to Class XII and that most of those classes were being conducted from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. This was putting a great amount of physical and mental stress on the children, he said.
“Parents are being forced to expose children to smart phones and laptops with uninterrupted internet connectivity, due to the compulsion to attend online classes and such exposure was hazardous to their physical health and mental development. The blue light from mobile and computer screens can damage cells in the retina and lead to blindness,” he claimed.
Pointing out that the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development was in the process of finalising norms for digital education and only draft rules had been framed so far, the petitioner stated that schools should not be permitted to take online classes for more than two hours a day, with an intermittent break for 40 minutes, until the rules were enforced.
Collection of school fee during lockdown
In the meantime, Justice R. Mahadevan directed the State government to explain by next Tuesday as to how private schools in the State would be able to pay salaries to teachers when the government banned forcible collection of fees during the lockdown.
He was of the view that teachers must be paid since online classes were under way. The judge directed Additional Government Pleader R. Vijayakumar to obtain instructions as to how the government on one hand expected all private establishments to pay salaries during this period and on the other, banned private schools from collecting fees. The question was posed during the hearing of a writ petition filed by All India Private Educational Institutions’ Association.
Appearing for the association, senior counsel K.M. Vijayan said, it was not the School Education Department but the Chief Secretary who issued a government order on April 24 preventing educational institutions from demanding fees. He said, schools and colleges had several expenses to meet towards maintenance of the institutions and paying taxes.
In an affidavit, filed through its counsel on record R. Vijay Anand, the association said educational institutions were being forced to conduct online classes upon the insistence of parents who do not want their children to waste time at home during the lockdown. The association claimed that there was no end in sight for the lockdown and so online classes had become the norm of the day.