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School lockdown to cost India $400 billion, yet national education budget 'cut' in 2021

Counterview Desk 
The civil rights group Right to Education (RTE) Forum, even as insisting on the need to implement a list of demands it has worked out for overcoming the huge gaps in education, has said that children suffer from "psychological trauma", regretting, there is "loss of psychosocial support for those already vulnerable.
Pointing towards "unaddressed classroom hunger and learning loss", the Forum, which recently sent across the list of demands to MPs, said, "92% of children have lost at least one specific language ability from the previous year", and it is estimated that school lockdowns would "cost India 400 billion dollars in future earning."
The Forum regretted: "When the education system needed help most, India’s national education budget saw cuts in 2021."

Text:

The Covid-19 pandemic has been the worst shock to education systems in a century. India’s 32 crore students have experienced the world’s fifth longest school lockdown. Schools and early childhood care and education (ECCE) centres do not just educate children; they are place for socialization, they provide nutritious meals, connect children with psycho-social support and provide social protection for the poor. Closed schools deprive India’s children of more than just a chance to learning; the losses that children and young people suffered will never be recouped.
Even on the back of the first wave, 64% of children in rural India feared they will drop out without additional support. While schooling moved online, less than 15% rural households had an internet connection at the start of the pandemic; 96% of SC and ST households lacked a computer (Oxfam India). In one survey, 80% of parents in government and 59% in private schools reported that education was effectively not delivered during the pandemic.
The result was psychological trauma, loss of psychosocial support for those already vulnerable and unaddressed classroom hunger and learning loss. 92% of children have lost at least one specific language ability from the previous year . It is estimated that school lockdowns would cost India 400 billion dollars in future earning. When the education system needed help most, India’s national education budget saw cuts in 2021.
The return to normalcy is not in sight as schools, early childhood education centres and creches remain closed without any timeline for a return to normalcy. In June 2021, 125 of 723 districts had no Covid cases; since then 80% of all new covid cases have been reported from only 90 districts.
Enough is enough. It is time to #UnlockEducation in India. It is time for the Indian state to realize its constitutional responsibility to India’s children. It is time to realize the right to Education of the next generation by building back a stronger and better public education system that helps India emerge from this moment of crisis.
To achieve this, India needs to
  1. Prioritize getting all children back in school for complete or partial in-person instruction.
  2. Ensure that this reopening is done safely and inclusively, taking every measure to protect the health and well-being of learners, teachers and educators in manner that is decentralized involving parents and communities.
  3. Support students’ physical, mental health and psycho-social well -being, activate existing community mechanisms to identify those at risk and take steps to protect children from abuse, exploitation and violence of all forms including child labour, child marriage and trafficking.
  4. Promote holistic learning in children by providing an effective learning environment even in this time of crisis; assess student’s learning and support them to recover from learning loss through provision of accelerated learning and learning materials, including effective and inclusive use of technology including low tech modes.
  5. Strengthen the public education system and realize the Right to Education by enhancing the government’s own capacities instead of relying on private actors and PPPs.
  6. Ensure all Teachers’ vacancies are filled with immediate effect and pending salaries and allowances be paid with immediate effect.
  7. Stop privatisation and commercialisation of education in all forms.
  8. Protect the constitutional rights to educational equality by addressing the emerging digital divide and developing clear strategies to address the educational needs of India’s poor and marginalized groups including girls, persons with disabilities, dalits, adivasis, minorities and new categories of the excluded like Covid orphans and children of migrants in the response.
  9. Protect the well-being, health and economic security of teachers and other education personnel, provide them with training for safe reopening and support them once schools are opened.
  10. Re-open schools that have been closed/merged/rationalized during previous years to enable delivery of small group instruction respecting social distancing and stop further closures. .
  11. Place a moratorium on private schools hiking their fees during the pandemic and develop and enforce a comprehensive regulatory framework for private schools to prevent overcharging, exploitation and exclusion of children.
  12. Increase budgetary allocations for education adhering to the minimum of 6% GDP to ensure continuation of learning for all children, particularly those from marginalised groups.
  13. Develop a long term policy on Education in Emergencies to ensure readiness for future crises.

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