The pandemic and the extended lockdown in India has hit the poor disproportionately hard. They have a higher risk of infection, significant loss of income and livelihoods, and immense learning losses for their children as the schools were closed for 7+ months.
During this period, government schools have been struggling with identifying new ways of working and trying to enable distance learning for students. Yes, it is neither easy nor straightforward as students from the most impoverished communities can only access digital learning on their phones and usually on low-tech platforms. A recent survey suggests that more than 50% of families surveyed did not have any digital devices through which their children could access online education. Even for kids with a smartphone, there are a lot of challenges. With incomes drastically reduces due to the current economic crisis, parents who are daily wage earners face a tough choice between purchasing mobile data for their child’s education or buying food for the coming days. With the loss of learning, the students most affected have the risk of slipping through society’s cracks, and their vulnerabilities have significantly heightened due to their socio-economic situation. At such a time, it is crucial to double down on efforts to ensure that the learning journey of the students continues. A critical requirement for enabling this is access to digital devices for the students.
The Way Forward:
It makes sense to have a staggered approach to uplifting the education system in India. There is a need to have a short, medium, and long term strategy.
In the short term, it is essential to provide immediate support, including food and direct benefits. To enable this, there needs to be direct money transfer into the neediest parents’ bank accounts (a fundraiser can support this). There need to be partnerships with feeding India and Zomato for deliveries of groceries. It is essential to identify community champions and empowering them to take up work like grocery distribution and implementation. It is also vital to share import information like relief schemes introduced by the govt, information on Covid-19 safety measures and a list of nearby food distribution centers, raise e-coupons, etc.
In the medium term, it is crucial to reach out to children and provide them an education which they would lose because of the lockdown. As the schools are still shut, there are chances that kids would have a loss of an entire academic years’ worth of learning. To combat that, we need to reach out to kids through their parent’s phones and the internet. Still, the challenge here is to provide them quality education through exciting, attractive, and relevant material. It is vital to make the parents understand the quality of education offered. This helps with getting their support for these initiatives.
Long Term Measures: Here, the focus needs to be on training teachers to facilitate a wholesome learning experience for the students. This training would help the teachers teach better even when we get back to normal, hopefully shortly. Teachers need to have a more in-depth knowledge of the subjects they teach to become true educators to their students.
These are a few ways in which these needy students can be given the education they deserve. There are NGO’s working on improving the education infrastructure to facilitate better education in government schools and incentivize education by providing better quality education.
This is the time for society to come together and help each other. Through partnerships and the right approach, we can directly support communities and rebuild systems that will emerge stronger, faster, and better.
Yes, we are in crisis, but in each crisis lies an opportunity for us to rebuild, revitalize and reorganize the system towards a better future.
Aditya Doiphode is an MBA student from IIM Ahmedabad