Pandemic, schools and children
In Karnataka, high schools and pre-university colleges reopen today after eighteen months of remaining shut due to the pandemic.
This prompted me to gather articles and reports on the impact of the pandemic on schools and school-going children in India.
The setback in education at school-level is unprecedented. It will have long term effects on educational attainment and learning outcomes of children over the next decade if they are not helped with extra support to cover this eighteen month long gap in learning. It would have been different if schools hadn’t become the institutions for primary socialisation of our children. But the pandemic has brought home the realization in a way that few events could have, in the post-industrial era. In its minor specifics the experience across countries might vary. However, the impact of the pandemic on children’s learning, growth and development has been experienced worldwide. India has a huge percentage of the global population of children and those who experience extreme vulnerabilities for a variety of socio-economic reasons.
Krishna Kumar in early months of the pandemic wrote –
However, the pandemic has triggered a different kind of fantasy which is sweeping over our fragile school governance system clear across the country. This fantasy promises to deliver the children’s right to education through the online medium. The curriculum compressed tightly into short modules, with 30 per cent segments deleted, will cover whatever the child requires for a regime of outcome testing and final exam. Many different things are happening simultaneously even as the parallelogram of policy forces tilts towards new lobbies and the quick fixes they are keen to offer.
In February 2021, Azim Premji Foundation published a report on s survey on Loss of Learning During the Pandemic. The report finds an alarming dip in language skills and math skills — 92 per cent of the children have lost at least one language ability, while 82 per cent have lost math skills.
The extent and nature of learning loss is serious enough to warrant action at all levels.
Policy and processes to identify and address this loss are necessary as children return to schools. Supplemental support, whether in the form of bridge courses, extended hours, community-based engagements and appropriate curricular materials, will be needed to help children gain the foundational abilities when they return to school. It follows that teacher capacity to ensure student learning in these unusual circumstances must be in focus, particularly with respect to pedagogy and assessment needed to deal with students at diverse learning levels. And most importantly the teachers must be given enough time to compensate for both kinds of learning loss – and we must not rush into promoting children to the next class
The survey covers schools in Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand comprising 1137 schools and 16067 children.
On a podcast, Sal Khan of the Khan Academy reported that they have had over 120 million learners who are accessing learning videos on their platform.
Speaking about the APF survey, Anurag Behar observes –
In online education is ineffective because most children in our country do not have access to the resources that will deliver online education to them. Over 200 million school-going children don’t have access to resources. The second problem is physical space. In many families, multiple people share the same room.
The fundamental nature of education, particularly for school-going children, is such that it requires intimate social connection, just a fancy way of saying we have to be together. And therefore, unless the in-person classes are being held the education is ineffective.
What it means is this: for 16 to 17 months, our children have not gone to school. point one, they have lost all learning that is supposed to happen in that period. Right? So a child who was in class 4 in March 2020. When she’s coming now into school, she’s going to come into class 6, just imagine how staggering that is. She’s not gone to the class 5 syllabus at all. And from class four, she’s coming straight to class 6.
Finally, this assessment from Krishna Kumar on online education for children below the age of four and the consequence of having a large number of school dropouts –
Except for India, no country in the world is conducting e-classes for kindergarten and preschool kids. Looking at it from the point of view of child psychology and development, it is no good for their mental state. By brainstorming about ways to teach kids through elders and adult children, we can find a way. In my opinion, it would be better for 4-year olds who took online classes to have their eyesight and overall growth tested once the pandemic ends. Children of this age do not need a rigorous learning routine. They can be left freely albeit with some basic teaching.
India will have to pay a hefty price if we cannot bring back dropouts to schools again. The country will take a backward trajectory otherwise. Therefore, the current phase must be considered a national education emergency.
A few children I have observed closely are from the villages around our farms. In an earlier post, I explored if the government’s response in the second wave was reasonable. The shift for some of the children has been swift and as it appears to their families, a better value proposition.
A family that works with us on the farm has been supplementing its income by sending their 12 year old boy for farm work. The child earns INR 160/day for hand-sowing cotton seeds on farms. He earns INR 130/day for helping with fertilizing farms.
India’s burden of out of school and poorly educated adolescents will have an alarming increase in the years ahead. This needs priority in rebuilding efforts as we emerge from the pandemic.