Parents, students and international organisations alike are voicing the pressing need to reopen schools after the two-year long hiatus due to Covid-19. Various reports both at the national and international level have already talked about the damage levied on Indian education due to the abrupt shift to digital education when only some portion of the population has access to electricity let alone technology and internet.
The simmering unrest can now be felt in certain regions of Haryana where parents have started sending children to school despite institutions working at half their strength. According to the Tribune India on January 25, 2022 residents of Dhani Sanchla and Dhani Bhojraj villages sent their children to Government Secondary School, Fatehabad that followed government directions and refused to take physical classes.
Villagers had resolved since Monday to send their children to the village school despite Covid restrictions as per the Disaster Management Act-2005 that were extended until Republic Day. They even submitted a memorandum to the district administration but to no avail. The villages have had to deal with online education despite there being a government school and three private schools.
Similarly, Economically Weaker Section (EWS) parents still await private school admission for their children as per Section 134A of the Haryana School Education Rules. The Tribune reported that parents finally conducted a “class” of students on the campus of the mini secretariat. Tired of waiting for the administration to act, students sat for two hours demanding that their enrollment be completed.
Many schools demanded that the government clear dues before enrolling students in their schools. According to authorities, schools have been issued show-cause notices for not adhering to the government orders. However, such instances indicate that families are growing impatient and the need for classrooms and physical classes is more dire than ever.
Already the ASER 2020 Wave 1 phone survey for rural Haryana showed that the percentage of children not enrolled in schools had risen from 2.3 percent in 2018 to 4.4 percent between 6-16 years. In the report, smartphones were the most popular medium of education during the beginning of the pandemic, effectively cutting off a large group of children from education. Of these, most of the education was imparted through WhatsApp. Due to this, 40.6 percent of children said they could not access learning material because they had no smartphone. 42.2 percent said the school did not send any material, while 11.5 percent and 2.3 percent said they did not have internet or proper connectivity respectively.
GEEAP 2022 report
On Republic Day, the Global Education Evidence Advisory Panel (GEEAP) released the ‘Prioritizing Learning During Covid-19’ report with the latest data on the impact of school closures on children. Globally, it said that a Grade 3 child, who has lost one year of schooling during the pandemic, could lose up to three years’ worth of learning in the long run if urgent action is not taken.
In the case of India, it said that ASER Centre’s 2021 Karnataka report showed decreases in both literacy and numeracy at the primary level, equivalent to one year of schooling.
“India and Pakistan suggests a slowdown in learning progress relative to pre-Covid cohorts. The World Bank, UNESCO, and UNICEF (2021) estimate that school closures of one year map on average to one year of lost learning,” said the report.
Learning losses due to school closures has become one of the biggest global threats to medium- and long-term recovery from Covid-19. According to GEEAP Co-Chair Abhijit Banerjee, the evidence tells us that schools need to reopen and be kept open as far as possible and steps need to be taken in bringing children back into the school system. Banerjee shared the 2019 economics Nobel Prize in part for his work in education and is one of the 15 international education experts, who produced the second annual GEAAP report.
The loss of learning will also result in a severe economic cost. A recent estimation predicts a USD $17 trillion loss in lifetime earnings among today’s generation of schoolchildren if corrective action is not taken.
“While many other sectors have rebounded when lockdowns ease, the damage to children’s education is likely to reduce children’s wellbeing, including mental health, and productivity for decades, making education disruption one of the biggest threats to medium- and long-term recovery from Covid-19 unless governments act swiftly,” said Panel Co-Chair Kwame Akyeampong.
Low- and middle-income countries and socio-economically disadvantaged children suffered the most in this time, said the report.
To address this growing global concern, the report made four recommendations to prevent further loss and recover children’s education. It called upon countries to prioritize the full and constant opening of schools and preschools. Citing the educational, economic, social, and mental health costs of school closures, it said that shutting educational institutions must be treated as a last resort.
The report also called upon countries to prioritize teachers for the Covid-19 vaccination, provide and use masks were assessed as appropriate, and improve ventilation. Accordingly, instructions should be adjusted to support children’s needs and focus on important foundational skills.
“It is critical to assess students’ learning levels as schools reopen. Targeting instruction tailored to a child’s learning level has been shown to be cost-effective at helping students catch up, including grouping children by level all day or part of the day,” said the report.
Lastly, it said that governments must ensure teachers have adequate support to help children. Interventions that provide teachers with carefully structured and simple pedagogy programs cost-effectively increase literacy and numeracy, particularly when combined with accountability, feedback, and monitoring mechanisms.
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