The challenge of going back to school

Synopsis: Guidelines on re-opening schools focus more on health measures than on addressing learning difficulties.

Introduction

Covid pandemic has impacted severely the education of children. With the reopening of schools, governing students is more concerned with providing sanitation and safety measures. There is less focus on bridging the study gap.

What are the issues surrounding the school education system?

State policies: Despite the shock to the education system, a review of the State governments’ Standard Operating Procedures/guidelines on school re-opening shows that government emphasis is more on health and sanitation measures. There is very little discussion on the practical approaches required to ensure that every child returns to school and to address the learning difficulties that children will face.

Additional funding: A recent study by the World Bank and UNESCO shows that, in countries across the world, the average annual education budgets not only increased post-COVID-19 but increased at a higher rate than before COVID-19. But, in the case of India, it reduced its spending by over 9%. This came when there was already a 2% decline in education spending in India in the previous year. The share of spending on education in the overall budget also declined to 2.6%, while most countries either maintained or increased this share.

No proper planning: States only introduced bridge courses of approx 45 days, to quickly resume the textbook syllabus of current grade. Even the examination timetable has not been altered. This will further degrade the quality of student learning, as mentioned in the SCHOOL Survey.

Language Learning: Students are already struggling to learn in their native language. It was found that students learning in English medium schools are facing difficulties to learn in the English language. It is also because of the teacher’s less proficiency in English and no home exposure to that language.

Research from the U.S. during the early stages of the pandemic showed that the proportion of ‘English language learners’ obtaining ‘failing grades’ increased dramatically within just a few months of school closures and despite the provision of structured online learning

Mathematical Skills: Studies from other countries show that learning losses over the summer break of about two months are more severe in mathematics compared to reading (in the native language). This loss involved forgetting mathematics procedures rather than general concepts.

What approach should teachers adopt?

Teachers should adopt a coaching model instead of a mass teacher training programme. They should include additional learning materials, formative assessment tools and techniques to improve the quality of education.  The focus should be more on language learning, core Mathematical skills and socio-emotional learning. If required, the government should mobilize retired teachers and volunteers also.

Source: This post is based on the article “The challenge of going back to school” published in The Hindu on 6th October 2021.

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