The first case of Covid- 19 was reported in India on 30th January 2020. On 24th March 2020 Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared nationwide lockdown as a measure to contain the spread of the novel corona virus. It had a wide reaching impact on the educational system of the country as all the schools and educational institutions were shut down by state governments for indefinite time period. It’s more than two months now and it is still uncertain when usual school activities would resume.

Teaching and assessment methodologies are the first to get impacted by these closures. Many private schools and a handful of government schools have moved towards E- learning process. Online classes are being conducted through various apps such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Teachers are experimenting continuously with new ways of making presentations, animated videos and quizzes.

The pre-requisite for E-learning process is electronic devices such as android phone or laptop and good quality internet. Many government schools are completely shut because of unavailability of E- learning resources. The Delhi government decided to give allowance to purchase data and also asked teachers to stay in touch with students through call or messages. At the national level, the NCERT, has decided to draft alternative academic calendar for schools and has suggested teaching-learning resources through different portals for holistic development of a child. This prompts many questions about the appropriateness of the measures taken by the Central and State governments for school children.

Before moving towards the questions on the working of online learning process, it is important that we have a look at the national data on school education system and the students enrolled. According to the educational statistics provided by the MHRD in 2018, India’s 28% of the population is in the 0-14 age group. 260 million students are enrolled in approximately 15 lakh recognized schools in India. Hence, ideally for the government it should have been the biggest concern to reach out to this population.

So in the light of general data given above, the first concern that arises is that, how has the governments planned to take children of migrant workers into consideration? Many of them are travelling to their villages with their parents. They do not have access to mobile phones or laptops to attend online classes or to watch videos. They do not even have their textbooks of new session. Another evolving matter related to this issue is of ‘digital divide’ inevitably orchestrated by inconsistent reach of technology in the distant parts of the country. According to IBEF ( India Brand Equity Foundation)  Rural India, with an estimated population of 906 million as per 2011 census, has only 163 million (17%) internet users. The Pandemic has also increased this existing learning gap between socially privileged and socially disadvantaged children because of inaccessible digital sources of learning.

Second, how is the government planning to secure health and nutrition of the learners? Because of lockdown primary school children have lost the access to mid-day-meal also which was their one of the major source of nutrition. Many parents have lost their job and are barely managing their survival in these hard times. In such a scenario where livelihood is the biggest concern of the family, how do we expect child to continue with the school curriculum?

Another matter of serious reflection is that our schools have an influx of students who are first generation learners. They have no cultural capital to depend on while struggling through various subjects and content matter. Their inability to attend online classes is making them anxious and concerned about their future. As a result of it we have cases like Devika, the 14 year old girl from Kerala who committed suicide on 1.6.2020 out of depression as she was unable to attend digital classes.

The Pandemic crisis has made us revisit the significance and function of ‘School’. It is not only a place for content delivery, but it also helps students to be better decision makers and critical thinkers. It gives them safe space to discuss their concerns, personal as well as political. Today, they have no access to such space.

School closure does not only have the short term impact on continuity in the learning but will also have far reaching consequences such as increase in dropout rate, decrease in quality of learning and malnutrition in children. Not only physical, but psychological and social wellbeing of the learners will also suffer. Every child who is going through negative experiences because of pandemic will have strong imprints of it on her/his mind.

The Need of the hour is that the government and educational institutions should understand this threat. Better policies and well planned schemes are needed. Our expectations from children and their parents should be reasonable. Before we ask them to be proficient with technology and make it an important part of the education system, we must ensure that it is accessible to each and every learner. Constant sessions of counseling are required for parents as well as for learners to curb the issue of mental trauma and depression because of the crisis.

Education should work as a strong pillar for motivation and realization of importance of research and experiments. It must not be a means to pressurize children to rote memorize those same concepts that we are printing in our books from decades. Critical thinking abilities should be encouraged. It becomes even more significant at this time of pandemic where students not only need to know what to learn but also to know how to learn. It is only possible when government will put more efforts in planning and will make it more inclusive in such a manner that it bridges the learning gap among children from different socio economic backgrounds.

 Bhumika Rajdev is working as a social science teacher in a school in Delhi.


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