The COVID pandemic had dire effects on society and altered its functionality through several institutions, education being the most triggered. During 2020 and 2021, educational institutes remained closed due to the constant fear of spreading infection leading to decisive lockdowns. With the shutting down of schools and universities across India, learning went under a drastic shift to an online mode of teaching. This desperate measure led to a massive learning deficit among students in both pedagogical and psychological manner.
Even though the online mode came to the rescue, it soon became the general norm, and students began to face a digital divide. A study by Azim Premji Foundation states that nearly 60% of Indian school children do not have proper access to online learning opportunities. Similarly, in a research conducted by Oxfam India, parents of students attending private schools in the city reported problems concerning poor internet connectivity and speed. According to ICRIER and LIRNE Asia, 2021, 38% of households were forced to drop one child from school because of insufficient resources.
In December 2021, a parliamentary committee highlighted how the Covid crisis has excessively hampered girlchild education. The women empowerment panel urged immediate implementation of measures to prevent girls impacted by the closure of schools and lack of access to digital resources from dropping out. Moreover, the education ministry submitted a report under ‘Empowerment of Women Through Education with Special Reference to Beti Bachao-Beti Padhao Scheme’ stating, “school closure in India affected 320 million children enrolled from pre-primary to tertiary levels of education. It was estimated that of these, about 158 million are female students.” According to the committee, the probability of more adolescent girls retaining their enrolment and dropping out permanently to help with household chores and economic hardships is significantly high.
However, the parliamentary panel suggested incentivizing participation which allows girls to continue their educational learning with measures like scholarships, conditional cash transfers, provision of bicycles, access to smartphones, and hostel facilities. Even with such facilitation, the uncertainty of re-opening and closure of schools pose severe challenges in the retention of girl students. The panel asked the Centre to map ‘out of school’ children through surveys and reach out to every girl child to resolve her problems.
Online learning is not the way forward, even in the highly developed and well-resourced countries, as it will further bring inequality. Unquestionably, it prevented the education system from collapsing. But we need to recap the purpose of schooling and how teacher-learner interaction is crucial to a student's interpersonal and communicative skills development. Moreover, educational institutes need to reorganize the ways of learning more sustainably. Few steps have been taken in the post lockdown scenario, which includes the method of blended/hybrid learning. This method combines traditional teaching with digital technology, giving the teaching-learning experience more flexibility. Although, India still lacks the digital infrastructure to teach all the students in a virtual space.
The Indian Government needs to mobilize the resources of learning with radical reforms to get implemented to provide safe and compulsory neighborhood education. Central and state governments need to prioritize children's education across vulnerable regions. Suppose the country can grant subsidies for electricity, gas, housing, food distribution, water, and other basic amenities. Why not on uniforms, books, shoes, refreshments, transportation, and other essential materials for activities and school programs? These resources are essential for attending school.
(Picture courtesy: brookings.edu)
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