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Reopening schools: 'Devote first 100 days to address children's social, emotional issues'

By Arjun Kumar*

Due to the Covid-19, many things have come to halt, but education was one particular sector that never resumed normal functioning, whether they be schools or colleges. After a significant time, when the cases are in control and several nations have achieved a substantial level of vaccination and herd immunity, the view has gone strong that normal education should resume for children.
To throw light on the topic, the Centre for ICT for Development (CICTD), Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi, hosted a panel discussion under #WebPolicyTalk series, the State of Education – #EducationDialogue on Reopening of Schools amidst Covid-19: Challenges and the Way Forward for Children’s Education.
Sachidanand Sinha, professor, Centre for the Study of Regional Development, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, who chaired the session, explained how online education has affected people in rural and urban areas. Due to reduction in income and growing expenses of private education, onesaw that the enrolment rates in private schools have come down drastically.
Manushi Yadav, head, strategic partnership, Pratham Education Foundation, said that her experience working the NGO suggested how online education has nearly doubled the number of children who have lower reading capabilities than their grade.
Meeta Sengupta, founder, Centre for Education Strategy, New Delhi, and fellow, Salzburg Global Seminar, insisted on the need for teachers to become bridge in making the children educated and establishing their careers. She added, there is also the need to focus on a large variety of social essentials for children to make them responsible citizens in society.
Talking about difficulties faced by teachers, she said, there has been lack of online methods of teaching and engage children online. Also, there is lack of online-based pedagogy. Hence, as schools reopen, we should focus on filling the learning gap, she added.
Suchetha Bhat, CEO, Dream a Dream, Bengaluru, highlighted the impact of large-scale migration especially on children belonging to vulnerable communities, in particular girl children. She said, first hundred days in schools should be devoted to stabilizing their social and emotional challenges, as it is the period in transition. Children should not be put under stress by aiming at finishing the syllabus.
Prof Sinha said, it is essential to engage community and parents as schools reopen, adding, decision-making on what should be taught should be a decentralised collaborative effort, not a centralized job. Referring to his experiences from his fieldwork in various rural areas, he suggested, decentralizing should be accompanied with promoting social equity and social education.
Prof Sinha pointed towards how recent batch of students, who have never met in real life and have never been to a college campus, pose a challenge as the universities open up. During online classes, he said, there was lack of support from institutions, disturbing the teaching process. 
While these are macro level issues, there is also the need to solve things at the micro, household, level, especially families which have more than one child. Given this framework, he added, there is lot of pressure on teachers, a factor the authorities have ignored.
Sucheta Bhat, talking about education in the informal sector as also different platforms of education like EdTech startups, said, these should be regulated and kept under check. Their content and influence on children ought to be monitored. 
Manushi Yadav, answering a question, expressed apprehension about danger in opening schools, as vaccination for children has not even begun, even as stating that it is important to bring about changes in teaching in order to educate innovatively.
Added Meeta Sengupta, there is a need to come up with a couple of policy changes for future. Thus, one should try to develop peer learning circles among students for various subjects, which, according to her, is essential not just from the examination point of view but also in order to trigger effective debate on various topics the children study. Meanwhile, one ought work towards restructuring the infrastructure for online learning.
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*Director, IMPRI. Inputs: Ritika Gupta, Sakshi Sharda, Swati Solanki, Sneha Bisht. Acknowledgment: Ayush Aggarwal is a research intern at IMPRI

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