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No plan for deprived 72% of 265 million children as schools begin 'business as usual'

By Rajiv Shah 

As Indian schools rush towards starting their “business as usual”, a top education rights advocacy group, National Coalition on Education Emergency (NCEE), has regretted that “State governments are reopening schools as if nothing serious occurred”. According to NCEE, India has suffered one of the longest school closures in the world for close to 18 months, with a whopping 265 million students having “not been to school.”
While students have been “moved up by two grades and the normal syllabus is being followed, often after a short remedial course to bring them up to grade level”, an NCEE research claims there has been “devastating loss of the most basic language and mathematics skills among children of the rural and urban poor”, especially Dalits, Adivasis, minorities and migrant labourers, “leading to millions of drop-outs.”
Comprising individuals, organizations and networks across the country who have come together in a voluntary capacity to address the education emergency that has arisen in India, a new NCEE report, “A Future at Stake – Guidelines and Principles to Resume and Renew Education”, regrets, as “overwhelming majority” of children are now returning to schools, there is little effort to consult stakeholders, especially teachers, on how to go ahead.
Stating that “the education inequalities that existed before the pandemic have deepened to an unfathomable extent”, the report says, “Unless a sustained education recovery effort is organized over multiple years, the effects of these widening inequalities will become glaring in the years to come”, citing a survey between May 2020 to July 2021 to say that “remote learning was completely remote” to children of the underprivileged sections.
According to NCEE, the survey, done in 15 states and UTs shows that “over 72% of elementary age children were not studying regularly (or not studying at all)” and only “8% of rural children were studying ‘regularly’ online.” Further, while a majority of children had not had any interaction with their teacher during the 30 days preceding the survey, many parents stated that “teachers had not helped their child to study over the previous three months.”
The report says, “Nearly half the children in the sample were unable to read more than a few words of simple text. These findings are confirmed by many other state level studies. Imagine these students who were in grades 1-8 during the 18 months of the pandemic lockout, who may now re-join the school system. After such a long period of disconnect, they will encounter difficulties which will accumulate as they pass from one class to another.”
As a result, predicts the report, “Tens of millions will arrive to the end of the schooling cycle ill prepared and with few skills. But millions of others are likely to abandon schooling altogether, either due to disengagement with education or rising poverty, or both. Many children in ‘lowcost’ private schools have either dropped out or rejoined government schools, due to the inability to pay fees. Even the gains in enrolment of recent years are in jeopardy.”
Only 15% of Grade 8 teachers, 20% of Grade 9 teachers and 25% of Grade 10 teachers felt, students are at grade level in language and mathematics
An NCEE-developed education emergency policy tracker, in a survey tiitled “TeacherSpeak”, prepared with the help of IT for Change, Bengaluru, based on responses of teachers between October 17 and 21 has found that, in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, only 15 percent of Grade 8 teachers, 20 percent of Grade 9 teachers and about 25 percent of Grade 10 teachers felt that their students are at grade level in language and mathematics.
“These findings highlight the urgency to address the large gap between students’ learning levels and the curriculum”, the report insists, adding, “When asked about specific academic steps and processes that need to be taken up in school to help students learn and teachers teach, these were the top responses from teachers: Focus on the basics, foundational literacy and numeracy, plan a refresher or bridge course, joyful learning – more activities, projects, practicals, use of art, story-telling and games, and so on.
According to the report, “This education emergency comes on top of the health emergency and livelihood crisis. Children have lost parents or other caregivers and unemployment is at an all time high. Faced with emotional trauma, forced to take up jobs to support the family, or look after younger children, children from the poor and disadvantaged sections face adverse conditions for learning.”
Given this framework, NCEE has insisted on the need to conduct a household census at the village/block level and identify every child of school-going age, and where they are currently enrolled and the reasons for not enrolling, involve organizations working with migrant labour to identify migrant worker households whose children should be enrolled, and organize back to school campaigns involving panchayats, local governments, teachers and principals, with special focus on marginalised sections.
Pointing out that “high levels of malnutrition and stunting (over 40%) were prevalent in many Indian states before the pandemic”, the report says, school surveys show that “about 20 percent of families did not receive either uncooked rations or cash”, with “sharp drop in incomes would most likely have reduced food availability at home.” Hence, it says, there is “urgent need to increase food support to children.”
The survey further says, “Many school facilities have not been maintained for close to one-and-a-half years. They pose physical dangers as well threats to the health of children, teachers and other staff”, insisting, restoring the premises should be “part of the programme to create a welcoming environment for children”, even as offering “essential public health preventive measures need to be carried out on a regular basis to prevent the spread of the disease.”

Comments

anil said…
Alarming situation: have been raiding the issue of a vast majority being out of online education : sustain the pressure: but May bevteacher federations can come to help; they should be persuaded to help children out of education last year: I m
Hopeful that majority of teachers will help : pray they do

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