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Social, digital divide puts disadvantaged at risk of 'learning' losses, dropping out

By Our Representative 
Lauding the Global Education Monitoring Report (GEMR) 2020 of UNESCO, which highlights the need to make education a universal right for all, the Right to Education (RTE) Forum has demanded the government and policy makers in India should pay immediate attention towards this as it has become crucial at the time of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has further exacerbated the existing inequalities in society.
The RTE Forum, in a statement, has said that in India, the implications of the pandemic on the marginalized sections are evident. To curb the spread of the virus, the national lockdown has led to schools remaining closed for nearly three months now. But, in the meantime, the Government of India, without taking into account the digital divide, is considering online education as an alternative to regular school education.
Girls, children with disabilities, and children from marginalized communities with no access to laptops, smartphones, or data connections are left out which increases the risk of them not returning to schools, even once the situation normalizes. With health and nutrition point of view, it should be noted that anganwadis and ICDS centres have also remain closed affecting the midday meal distribution which is threatening to the lives of lakhs of children suffering from malnutrition.
It is worth mentioning that the GEMR report 2020 says, “Social and digital divides have put the most disadvantaged at risk of learning losses and dropping out. Also, lessons from the past – such as with Ebola – have shown that health crises can leave many behind, in particular the poorest girls, many of whom may never return to school.”
The RTE Forum said, the GEMR report has vindicated our stand that “automatic grade promotion” helps disadvantaged students. The report mentions that repetition of failure is an inclusion challenge since disadvantaged students have a higher likelihood of repeating.
Disadvantaged students have a higher likelihood of repeating. Studies show that there is no effect of repetition on achievement 
On the contrary, no-detention helps to keep children in schools and reduce drop-outs. The report mentions that impact of detention will be counter-productive on social-emotional outcomes and lead to low self-esteem among students.
Commenting on the importance of the GEMR report, Ambarish Rai, National Convener, RTE Forum said: 
“At a time, when we are grappling to overcome the pandemic, it becomes vital to prioritize the psycho-social health of students and the government must ensure automatic promotion of students of all classes into the next grade. Now is the time to bring back the no-detention policy in the interest of children from marginalized sections and girls by withdrawing the Second Amendment of the RTE Act 2009, which diluted the provision.”
Quoting from the GEMR report, the Rai added, “In India, children who repeated a primary grade were less likely to complete primary school, yet a dozen states abandoned the no- repetition/detention policy in 2017.”
Rai further said that teachers are a critical pillar of the education system and the GEM report reaffirms that trained teachers are essential for the fulfilment of sustainable development goal (SDG) 4. It also points out to the large disparity in the pupil-teacher ratio among states in India, especially in secondary and higher secondary education. This is largely because of the huge number of teachers’ vacancies across India with 11 lakh teachers’ posts remaining vacant in the country.

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