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Failure of online education: Class 8th, 9th children 'dropping out' as schools reopen

By Our Representative 

Seeking zero discrimination in educational institutions, the National Dalit Movement for Justice (NDMJ-NCDHR), during a national convention organised in collaboration with the Centre for Social Equity and Inclusion (CSEI), has insisted that in order to get out of school children back to schools, incentives should be provided, including study material, digital devices and nutritional food.
Even as making learning loss assessment of every student, the speakers at the meeting sought intensive redesigning of bridge courses, leveraging the private sector to provide digital devices to students belonging to economically weaker and marginalized sections, and a credible, fair and transparent system of continuous assessment, among others.
More than 70 delegates participated in this Convention to collect voices and inputs from across the country on the issues and challenges faced by marginalized communities in educational institutions at the onset of a pandemic. The delegates also deliberated on state preparedness when educational institutions are resumed and devised strategies for curtailing learning gaps.
The highlight of the convention was the voices of children from Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, and Rajasthan. Children shared their stories of discrimination and violence based on caste, inability to access schemes, gaps in digital-based learnings, issues with mid-day meal schemes, high dropouts resulting from livelihood, emotional and mental health, learning loss, etc.
Rosalin Das, a Dalit child from Odisha, said, “Most of the students of class 8th and 9th are dropping out, because of the two-years online education, where Dalit children did not had access to smart phones, and laptop”. Badriprasad Rout, an Adivasi boy from Odisha, also mentioned that “not only boys but girls are getting engaged in petty work, as child labour.”
Deepika Mahey, another Dalit girl from Himachal Pradesh, mentioned her struggle to attend the online class with one single smartphone at home. “We siblings at home had to choose who would attend the class. If one could attend, other had to miss the class.”
Addressing the convention, Adv Rahul Singh, general secretary, NDMJ-NCDHR, emphasized, “Although we were well aware of the severe discrimination faced by Dalit and minority students in our country, getting the narrative of violence, discrimination, learning loss from the children is heart-breaking. The Government, States, and school authorities must urgently take serious measures to ensure the safety and security of our children when the schools reopen; it should have proper infrastructure and guidelines in place to protect our children.”
Annie Namala, executive director, Centre for Social Equity and Inclusion, New Delhi, said, “The evolving online education system deepened the inequalities in Indian society where not everyone has access to smartphones, computers/laptops, and a steady internet connection. There has been an evident Digital Divide in the marginalised community, creating learning loss for the children.”
Beena Pallical, general secretary, NDMJ-NCDHR, pointed out the need to “re-visit our curriculum, re-modelling of the curriculum, and re-budgeting the curriculum, to strengthen and capacitate the Dalit and Adivasi children.”
Kiran from the Naaz Foundation, Delhi, a transgender activist, shared “the struggle of Dalit children and a child of third-gender or LGBTQ community face similar discrimination, which often forces these tender children to take their own life.”
Anjela Taneja from Oxfam brought up a critical point: "Digital-divide should not be minuscule. The issue is huge, digital education has pushed Dalit children 15 years back, and an entire generation is impacted”.
Jasmeet Kaur, assistant professor, Department of Education, Mata Sundari College, University of Delhi, emphasized, “Providing a happy space for children at home, and school, which should encourage the children to come back to school again.”

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