- GS-2: Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Education, Human Resources
- GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation
India’s education emergency
Context: During the COVID-19 pandemic, India enforced among the strictest, most generalised and continuous school and university closures creating in the process the largest education emergency in the world.
How did India & other countries react to Pandemic vis-à-vis Education?
- In India, the school closure indicator shows that of the 503 days, between March 5, 2020 and July 20, 2021,
- 404 days were characterised as being at the most severe policy response (requiring closure of all types of educational institutions);
- 62 at level 2 (with closure of some types of institutions)
- only 37 days at level 1 (when closure was either only recommended or school opening was allowed with precautions).
- As a result, about 265 million schoolchildren in India have been taught exclusively through so-called “remote learning”, the largest number in any country for the longest period of time.
- Within a few months of the first lockdown of schools in March 2020, pandemic-hit Europe began resuming in-person schooling for certain groups of children or certain localities.
- Less affluent countries such as Uruguay and Vietnam, also took a more measured approach, imposing the severest policy responses in education only for 140 and 212 days, respectively.
- When the school closure policy was relaxed in a few Indian States during January-March 2021, only high schools were allowed to function to conduct public exams.
- By March 2021, 51 countries had resumed in-person education. In another 90 countries, including many in Africa, multiple modalities, rotation of children for in-person classes were being offered. Similar strategies were not systematically tried in India, even when relaxations were made for public gatherings at festivals and elections, prior to the second wave of the pandemic
What has been the Indian experience during these long periods of school lockdown?
- Difficult transition: States leveraged investments made over the last two decades in information technology for schools, including capacity building of teachers and teacher developed digital content. Nevertheless, the universal switch to ‘online’ mode has proved challenging.
- Multidimensional Impact on Children: Evidence was mounting of the harm caused to children and young adolescents — learning losses as well as socio-emotional stress — by prolonged school closures.
- Ineffectiveness of remote learning: It was also well observed about the ineffectiveness and inequalities of remote learning, even in technologically sophisticated environments.
- The national Digital Infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing (DIKSHA) portal of teacher resources claims that usage increased to 3.17 billion “learning sessions” and 37.85 billion “learning minutes”, by the end of May 2021. The educational significance of these metrics is not clear.
- Widened Existing Inequalities: During these hundreds of days of almost continuous lockout, the youngest and the poorest among Indian children — Dalits, tribals and others, and lacking devices and electricity — struggled with online classes. Existing education inequalities will increase.
- Pushed Children to Work: Tragically, for tens of millions of Indian children, the difficulties of remote learning may be the least of their troubles. With families ravaged by disease and job losses, teenagers are caring for the sick and younger siblings, or working for pay.
- Impacted development of child: Interruptions in child health services, early nutrition and mid-day meals have affected the growth and development of young children. Ironically, closed schools are seen as a commitment to children’s safety, while the higher risk of disease transmission by working children or the increase in malnutrition is ignored.
A complete change is needed
- India’s education emergency demands action on the education, health and livelihood fronts.
- It requires focusing on every child as an individual.
- Each school should prepare a safe school opening and child support plan, and should receive technical help for this.
- Teachers must be prioritised for vaccinations.
- An ‘Education Emergency Room’ should be set up in every district to coordinate, implement and monitor local plans. Many activities have to be coordinated:
- Develop health and sanitation measures in schools and protocols for public transportation;
- Encourage children who were not engaged with schools over the last year to come back;
- Develop tools to help teachers make quick diagnoses of students’ learning gaps;
- Train teachers to use this as a guide to support children’s recovery;
- Offer additional classes or activities;
- Implement school health and nutrition;
- Develop tools to accompany the educational trajectory of each student. Technology should be deployed safely for such purposes that identify and respond to children’s needs.
Connecting the dots: