Only four percent of rural SC/ST children are studying online regularly, compared to the 15 percent otherwise underprivileged children in rural areas, as per an emergency report by the School Children’s Online and Offline Learning (SCHOOL) survey, published on September 6, 2021. The ‘Locked Out’ report showed the consequences of prolonged school closure during the Covid-19 pandemic based on interviews with nearly 1,400 school children in underprivileged households.
With 60 percent of the sample students from rural areas and another 60 percent from Dalit or Adivasi communities, the report also shows the varying disparities across the households. It illustrated how the predicament of Dalit and Adivasi households was worse than the average households for the survey. The communities face a disadvantage in all categories of online education, or regular study, or reading abilities.
Particularly, it said that only four percent of rural SC/ST children are studying online regularly, compared with 15 percent among other rural children. Barely half of them were able to read more than a few letters in the reading test. Accordingly, 98 percent rural SC/ST parents wanted schools to reopen as soon as possible.
Rural areas showed that 8 percent of sample children were studying online regularly, while 37 percent were not studying at all! However, within rural areas 43 percent SC/ST children were not studying compared to 25 percent other children.
Locked Out (Rural areas): Dalits and Adivasis
Proportion (%) of children who live in a house without a smartphone
Proportion (%) of children who are studying regularly
Proportion (%) of online children who watch online classes, not just videos
Proportion (%) of parents of online children who are satisfied with the online study material
Proportion (%) of children who are unable to read more than a few letters
Proportion (%) of parents who feel that their child’s ability to read and write has declined during the lockout
Source: Emergency Report on School Education
Further, it said that the literacy rate in the 10-14 age group was lowest at 61 percent for rural Dalit and Adivasi children, then 66 percent of rural children and only 74 percent for urban children.
“The contrast is all the more startling as the official census definition of literacy (ability to read and write with understanding in any language) seems more restrictive than the definition used for SCHOOL survey figures,” said the report.
The survey considers a child as literate if they can read a test sentence “fluently” or “with difficulty”.
Spread majorly across Delhi, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, the survey showed that the illiteracy rate among SC/ST children from the 10-14 years age group (39 percent) was over four times higher than the average illiteracy rate for all children aged 10-14 years in the ‘SCHOOL states’ 10 years ago (9 percent).
Overall, the report indicated the presence of social discrimination within the schooling system. In Kutmu village, Latehar district of Jharkhand, most of the households are Dalits and Adivasis. However, their teachers belong to dominant caste families. The latter group’s parents told the survey team that if SC/ST children are educated, they will have no one to work in the fields!
“The teacher lives in the nearest town, comes to school in her own sweet time, and takes it easy in the classroom,” concerned parents said when asked about the teacher’s behaviour.
None of the 20 Dalit and Adivasi children interviewed in the village could read fluently. These problems will only worsen as children will be promoted to higher grades without ensuring due understanding of previous coursework.
The report raised concerns that such an educational lockout can cause a rising incidence of child labour. Some girls in the 10-14 years group already were doing household work. In rural areas, about one-fourth of girls had done unpaid work in family fields in the preceding three months. A substantial 8 percent had done paid work. Similar patterns apply to boys in the same group, with lower figures for household work.
“It will take years of patient work to repair this damage. Reopening schools is just the first step, [and] still being debated,” said the report.
Preparations such as repairing school buildings, issuing safety guidelines, training teachers, enrolment drives are virtually invisible in many states. The survey recommended an extended transition period for the schooling system to enable children to catch up with a reasonable curriculum and restore children’s psychological, social and nutritional wellbeing.
The entire report may be read here: