Reopening schools at 50% capacity, involving teachers only in school work, collaboration with private players are some ways in which India can make up for the loss of two years of education
COVID-19 has affected many sectors. School education has been one of the worst-affected among them. The dropout rate is at its peak.
Vaishnavi (name changed), a fifth-grader from a Pune government school, had to leave and shift to her native village. Her father could not bear the expenses of two children. He had lost his job.
Shivraj (name changed), another student from Pune, could not attend a single online class. His father could not afford an android phone. Nadeem, a sixth-grader, lost foundational literacy and numeracy.
There are many more such examples that warn us about an impending educational crisis. India’s education system was always characterised by persistent access issues, learning gaps, infrastructure and rotten syllabus. The pandemic made it even worse.
Right now, India is in the most challenging situation as far as the education sector is concerned. School education is facing four major issues:
1. Access to virtual education
As many as 43 per cent of parents in rural areas said no online material was sent by the school, while 36 per cent said their children did not have smartphones. The Annual State of Education Report 2021 noted that 67.6 per cent of students’ families had one android phone.
Students are not regular in online classes. It is tough for a teacher to ensure 100 per cent engagement in class. The pandemic has created a clear digital divide. This divide can be eliminated once schools start.
2. Huge learning gap
A study by Azim Premji University revealed shocking data about learning loss. During COVID-19, “90 per cent of students have lost at least one language ability and 80 per cent of students have lost at least one mathematical ability”, it said. The State Council of Educational Research and Training has come up with ‘Bridge Courses’ but that has not yielded any result.
If schools continue to be closed, there will be colossal learning poverty in India. Recently, the World Bank’s Education Director said: “Learning poverty in India is expected to increase from 55 per cent to 70 per cent”. In the Indian context, if schools continue to be closed, it would be an incalculable learning loss.
3. Negative impact on mental health of students
Students during the pandemic have undergone unusual social and emotional conditions. In cities, students have been locked down against their instincts. An increase in screen time, lack of physical activity, lack of socialisation and addiction to social media have had a terrible impact on their physical and mental health.
4. Engaging teachers in non-teaching jobs
In one of the government schools in Pune, there is one permanent teacher for 120 kids. How can a teacher would handle 120 students in the virtual space? How would s/he balance her/his non-teaching work with teaching in a pandemic scenario?
Teachers are being engaged in COVID-19 duties. This, when school education is in the doldrums. Can’t the government hire other people for COVID-19 duties?
Here are some recommendations to cope up with the existing and upcoming education crisis:
Reopen schools with 50 per cent capacity or adopt a hybrid model
Fear of COVID-19 spread cannot justify keeping schools closed for a long time. It’s advisable to adopt a hybrid model.
Schools can be reopened at 50 per cent of their capacity. Schools can broadcast physical classrooms through online apps for students, whose parents are unwilling to send them to school.
Schools can reopen in villages at 100 per cent capacity if such villages are not in the red or yellow zone.
Integrated SEL (social-emotional learning) to keep students happy
Students have not been able to socialise for two years as schools have been closed. SEL can be included in day-to-day teaching. The Delhi Government’s happiness curriculum is the best example.
Level-wise buckets of students
This year, the Maharashtra government has launched a bridge course of 45 days for encountering learning gaps. It’s tough to fill the gaps of two years in 45 days.
Most students lost their fundamental literacy and numeracy (FLN) during these two years. Expecting students to perform in their respective grades is meaningless and does not produce a positive result. It is advisable to bucket the students according their level.
The local administration can start community schools. These schools can be in any community hall, temple or any open space where 5-10 students can quickly gather by keeping social distance.
Volunteers from villages can be responsible for teaching FLN. Pratham, a non-profit, had done an excellent job in their learning camp project through volunteers and local staff.
In our school, we are focusing on differentiated learning. We have three buckets of students in the same grade, namely high-middle-low rigour kids. We are experiencing improvement in engagement FLN levels. We are doing this by using the community hall.
Collaboration with private players or non-profits to restore and improve literacy
Literacy and numeracy have been ruined during the last two years. Bridge courses did not reach every pocket of students. The Public Private Partnership model can be fruitful in restoring and improving literacy levels. The education department can collaborate with established non-profits to develop a road map and counter learning gaps.
Teach for India, a non-profit, has developed a bridge curriculum and implemented it in different schools with the help of their volunteers. Leadership for Equity, another non-profit, already works in a few districts of Maharashtra to address the issue of learning gaps. Similarly, the government can do this at a mass level.
Teachers should be involved only in school work
I spoke to a few teachers from schools run by the Pune Municipal Corporation. They said they were busy with COVID-19 duties like surveys, contact tracing, vaccination drive, etc. How can teachers perform their teaching roles in such a situation? The administration can hire non-teaching personnel to carry out COVID-19 duties.
No one knows when this pandemic will end, but schools should not be shut down. Schools have to reopen and that too permanently to save India from an impending educational crisis.
Pravin Bhikale is a Fellow at Teach For India, Pune
Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth
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