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Recently, a Survey named School Children’s Online and Offline Learning(SCHOOL) was conducted to understand the impact of the prolonged closure of schools due to the pandemic. The survey mentioned that the prolonged School closure at primary and upper primary levels since the onset of the pandemic has led to “catastrophic consequences” for school students, particularly in rural India. This questions the effectiveness of online education.
The Oxford Stringency Index’s school closure indicator shows that India closed the schools for 404 days between March 5, 2020, and July 20, 2021. The index term India’s this response as the most severe policy response (requiring the closure of all types of educational institutions).
During this time, about 265 million schoolchildren have been taught exclusively through so-called “remote learning”, the largest number in any country for the longest period of time. But the findings of the SCHOOL survey and other surveys highlight the impacts of School closure.
What are the key findings of the SCHOOL Survey on School Closure?
The report covered 1,362 sample households spread across 15 States.
Students Studying Online: Around 37% of the sample students in rural areas were not studying at all. On the other hand, schoolchildren studying online “regularly” was just 24% and 8% in urban and rural areas respectively.
The study also mentioned that a student who was in Grade 3 before Covid-19 is now in Grade 5, and will soon enter middle school, but with the reading abilities of a Grade 1 pupil.
Reasons for Limited reach of online classes: Many sample households (about half in rural areas) have no smartphone. But even among households with a smartphone, the proportion of children who are studying online regularly is just 31% in urban areas and 15% in rural areas.
Impact of Limited Access to Online Classes: Due to limited access to online classes, 48% of the surveyed poor children in rural areas weren’t able to read more than a few words while in urban areas, the figure was at 42%.
Shift from Private to Government Schools: Around 26% of the households had switched from private to government schools for lack of funds, while mid-day meals had been discontinued in all sample schools.
Marginalised communities were the worst affected. For instance, only 4% of rural scheduled caste and tribe children were studying online regularly compared with 15% among other rural children.
Relation between the teachers and students: With 51% of the respondents in the urban areas and 58% in rural India saying that they had not met teachers during the month preceding the survey.
Impact on nutritional health: The closure of schools also affected the level of nutrition among the children where the midday meals have been stopped.
Parents on Online Education: Around 75% of parents feel their child’s reading ability has massively declined and almost 97% of them want physical classrooms to open immediately.
Increase in Child labour: Child labour is unusual among very young children. But among girls aged 10 to 14, a “large majority” are now doing some housework and, in villages, 8% of them had done paid work in the preceding three months
To repair the damage: The survey also mentions that it will take years of patient work to repair this damage. The survey also mentioned that leaving these issues unaddressed will create everlasting damage to India’s demographic dividend.
|Read more: Why do we need to reopen schools?|
Findings of various studies about the impact School Closure
Firstly, A study in the Netherlands has found that most learning losses occurred “among students from disadvantaged homes”. Researchers have also termed this as nutrition loss and learning loss.
Secondly, a large multi-State study in the United States records that the pandemic “has also prompted some students to leave the public school system altogether”.
Thirdly, according to a study by the Azim Premji Foundation in India, 92% of children on average have lost at least one specific language ability from the previous year across all classes; the figure is 82% when it comes to mathematical ability.
Fourthly, the UNESCO data has mentioned that school closure has resulted in the following impacts.
Increased exposure to violence and exploitation: When schools shut down, early marriages increase, more children are recruited into militias, sexual exploitation of girls and young women rises, teenage pregnancies become more common, and child labour grows.
Social isolation: Schools are hubs of social activity and human interaction. When schools close, many children and youth miss out on social contact that is essential to learning and development.
Fifthly, the World Bank blog mentions that there are no estimates of the benefits of school closures. In contrast, the cost of keeping schools closed in terms of children’s learning, mental health, and socio-emotional development is exorbitant.
The World Bank’s simulations at the end of 2020 showed that the Learning Poverty indicator (the percentage of ten-year-olds who cannot read and understand a simple text) would likely increase from 53 percent before the pandemic to 63 percent.
|Read more: E-classes leading to learning gaps in higher education: Survey|
Suggestions to reopen the schools
The World Bank blog mentions that school closures did not help enough in reducing the spread of the Pandemic. This is because the epidemiological surveys and household-level analysis indicates that children transmit the virus less efficiently than adults.
This is reflected in the Indian Council of Medical Research’s (ICMR) Fourth National Sero-Prevalence Survey also. As the survey mentioned that, more than half of the children (6 -17 years) were seropositive. So, reopening the school is essential, but the government has to follow few important steps. For instance,
Follow the ICMR recommendations: The ICMR also recommended the following.
- It will be wise to open primary schools first and then secondary schools.
- Vaccinate all support staff and teachers before opening the schools.
So, to reopen schools, there is an urgent need to recognize teachers and other school staff as front-line workers and prioritize them in the vaccination campaign.
Create the concept of school bubble: The Covid-19 technical advisory committee (TAC) constituted by the Karnataka government has proposed the ‘school bubble’ concept to mitigate the spread of the disease among children (aged below 18) attending offline classes at schools and pre-university colleges across the state. The government has to implement this concept throughout India while reopening schools.
Decentralisation of decisions: Decisions to open schools should be taken for geographic units that encompass relatively proximate communities, and certainly not for an entire state or district simultaneously. As a default option, the panchayats in rural areas and wards in urban areas can decide about the reopening of schools.
|Read more: Our children need education. How much longer can schools remain shut?|
Suggestions to bridge the learning gaps
Repeat the academic year: ‘One way of addressing the learning crisis might be to repeat the entire academic year. For instance, The government in Kenya has recently decided to do just this. Some countries, such as the Philippines, allow extended time for classes on resumption, both in the duration of school hours and more calendar days of interaction.
Teaching arts: Teaching arts such as Music, painting, theatre and dance in schools will make the resumption of routine life at school more nourishing.
Bringing back the dropouts: Whenever schools reopen, the government has to bring back the dropouts. For instance, the Uttar Pradesh government proposes to track all students disappearing between Classes VIII and IX. Similar tracking is necessary at the All India level.
Addressing the learning deficit: Once the schools reopen, offering a few standardised “bridge” courses and “remedial classes” may seem like a facile antidote to the months of lost formal learning. For that, An ‘Education Emergency Room’ should be set up in every district to coordinate, implement and monitor local plans.
Reorganisation of this year’s curriculum: Schools will start teaching offline right from where they left online. This ‘where we left it’ approach will not provide any benefit for school education. So, A team of subject-specialists and teachers must sit together to look at the syllabus designed for every grade level and deliberate on ways to reorganise it for this unusual academic session.
Special focus on marginalised sections: Introducing the concept of One-to-one tutoring for the most disadvantaged learners. For example, the National Tutoring Programme of the UK and a similar programme in Ghana were done this. In Italy, university students are volunteering to conduct one-on-one classes for middle school children from poor immigrant backgrounds.
|Read more: Blended model of learning – Explained in detail|
By March 2021 itself, 51 countries had resumed in-person education. In another 90 countries, including many in Africa, resorted to “hybrid” schooling models (i.e., a combination of in-person and remote teaching). India can adopt similar strategies initially and open schools when all school staff is fully vaccinated.
Overall, India must open schools at the earliest, but it must do so with rigorous procedures along with genuine expert advice to bridge the learning gaps.