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Impacts of School Closures and way forward

Synopsis: Policies to ensure education during COVID-led school closures has increased the disparities. Disparities need to be rectified by suitable policy measures to deliver universal education to all.

Background

  • Lockdown measures to contain COVID spread has forced the government to resort to school closures.
  • The governments tried to address the situation by giving a push to the digital distance learning method.
  • However, studies indicate that the initiative failed to take into account existing divides such as spatial, digital, gender and class.
  • The digital learning methods widened the digital divide between the rich and the poor and the urban and rural areas.

What were the steps taken by the government?

  • The government used various means such as text/video/audio content through SMS, WhatsApp, radio and TV programmes to reach out to students and engage them.
  • Further, the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development in March 2020 started sharing the following free e-learning platforms.
1.Diksha portal: It contains e-learning content aligned to the curriculum
2. e-Pathshala: It is an app by the National Council of Educational Research and Training for Classes 1 to 12 in multiple languages
3. SWAYAM:  it consists of 1,900 complete courses including teaching videos, computer weekly assignments, examinations and credit transfers, aimed both at school (Classes 1 to 12) and higher education.
4. SWAYAM Prabha: it is a group of 32 direct to home channels devoted to the telecasting of educational programmes

What are the issues concerning the use of the digital distance learning method?

The attempts at initiating a rapid transition to digital learning following the pandemic have many lessons,

  1. First, according to a recent UNICEF report, the massive school closures exposed the uneven distribution of technology required for remote learning. It reduced the chances of social and economic mobility through education.
  2. Second, it also disrupted the significant school programmes that resulted in high enrolment as well as regular attendance. (The mid-day meal scheme, the school health Programme and pre-metric scholarships to girl children).
  3. Third, the abilities of the families and communities to support their children’s education reduced. For example, A survey promoted by the Centre for Budget and Policy Studies found that in families which faced cash and food shortages, only 50% of the boys and girls were confident of returning to school.
  4. Fourth, students with lesser access to digital connectivity forced them to share the burden of household chores. Also, their educational routine disrupted. In many cases, students don’t remember what they learnt earlier.
  5. Fifth, apart from the above issues the education sector faces many challenges. Such as delivery of pedagogical processes, classroom assessment frameworks, students’ support and teacher-student engagement.
Case study of Rajasthan:

  • Rajasthan has a low literacy rate in India. It is the 2nd worst in overall literacy rate and worst in female literacy rate. (NSS,2017-18).
  • 20% of girls in the age group 15-16 were out of school against the national average of 13.5 (Annual Status of Education Report 2018).
  • Despite pioneering initiatives in education such as the Lok Jumbish and Shiksha Karmi projects, it suffers from systemic issues in education related to quality, equity and gender
  • In Rajasthan, the access of girls to education during the COVID-19 period was limited to 11%. Girls who had online access reported links through WhatsApp (92%) and YouTube (12%).
  • The reasons for students inability to access online education were lack of devices, poor or no Internet connectivity, and also girls’ preoccupation with household activity.
  •  In contrast, the schools run by NGO’s performed better. They did not resort to online education. Instead, teachers visited individual students at home and also taught children in small groups.

 What needs to be done?

  • First, Education planning should be made context-specific, gender-responsive and inclusive.
  • Second, the government should take enabling measures even when schools are closed. Such as;
    • providing access to online education,
    • removal of barriers in pre-matric scholarships and
    • ensuring the provision of mid-day meals, iron and folic acid tablets and
    • provision of personal hygiene products to girl students
  • Third, currently, there are around 300 million children reported to be out of school in India across all age groups. This number can increase once schools are reopened.
    • Hence, the authorities should establish the re-enrolment of children as mandated by the National Education Policy 2020. Mass outreach programmes should be developed with civil society to encourage re-enrollment.
  • Fourth, to retain the poorest at schools’ remedial tuitions and counselling along with scholarships, targeted cash transfers and other entitlements are advisable.
  • Fifth, we can also think about making secondary education for girls free.
  • Finally, to implement all these measures we need to support the education sector with adequate budgetary resources. Hence, it is important to increase the share of education to 6% of GDP, as emphasized by the President of India.

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