Schools in India have been closed since March 2020. There are no alternative activities like online classes, mohalla classes, housing works etc. – these have failed to replace even a portion of the lost school education. Children of India. So, this whole year the kids didn’t learn what to do. In March 2020 many people forgot even the things they knew — a commonly observed phenomenon of ‘academic regression’ during long breaks from school.
The gravity of this problem becomes apparent when one imagines the reality of the school. A school in a small town is a large village with five classes or 20 students. None of them learned anything from the class five syllabus. Many forgot what they knew in fourth grade; Others, some less. And every class is in the same situation. The school has received a government order to promote all children to the next class. Those 20 kids who were in fifth grade are now in sixth grade. Teachers are expected to teach them a class-six syllabus, ignoring the fact that they have not learned anything by fifth grade and have forgotten their previous practices. This is done with all classes.
This precedent is already ending in some states; Such orders have been issued. Many others are in a similar position as only a few states have thoughtfully planned how to deal with this educational nightmare. As the history of this pandemic was written, one of the most important of our many shortcomings listed was how we dealt with education.
What should actually be done, and why are so many states not doing much? Before considering this, let’s take a look at some of the subtleties of this disaster.
Initially, classes one to five were closed for the entire period, but higher classes remained open for the past few months. From December, grades ten and twelve were launched in several states, followed by classes nine and eleven, and in February several states began classes six to eight. But this did not help to reclaim much land. The epidemic, the lack of awareness about such activities and the low attendance in this environment of fear reduced their operational limitations and then hit the second wave.
Second, online classes are just as devastating as online. This is largely due to the lack of access to the net and devices for most children in India and the inherent nature of children’s learning, making online education inappropriate. Following their misguided enthusiasm until May-June, many state governments began to quietly accept that other methods needed to be tried, as online classes were useless.
Third, due to the large number of public (government) school-teachers, and the systematic approach taken by the administration in some states, mohalla classes and other community-based interventions were conducted. All of these are admirable efforts. However, looking at the operational challenges of such endeavors, they have led to continued social engagement with children, with very little actual curricular learning. Most private schools have not tried any of these; Therefore, the situation of private school students is worse than public schools.
How can state governments issue directives to promote children to the next classes in these circumstances?
It is a combination of factors that work at the highest levels of the political and administrative leadership of the states. Almost every school-teacher is horrified by such decisions, but the state leadership seems to be deliberately disconnected from reality. Because they feel defensive about their inaction over the past 12 months, and they do not have the courage to act decisively. Only a few states with strong and thoughtful leadership are trying to address the situation realistically.
There are four things to do. First, all classes in all schools should start at the first sign of a tsunami-like second wave mitigation. Teachers should be treated as frontline health workers and take appropriate action. Opening schools that serve local communities does not increase the risk of infection — because those children get involved anyway. Second, there is a need to restructure the syllabus in all classes, reducing the load of content and disassembling it so that each subsequent class next year takes some of the previous burden. Third, and most importantly, all children should be given at least six months to stay in the current class, which will give teachers time to cover the reconstructed syllabus for that class. There is no substitute for devoting more time; Ideally, it should be a full year. Fourth, teachers should be provided with tools, teaching-learning materials and other assistance to enable them to deal with the syllabus in that short period of time and also to compensate for academic regression.
This unprecedented educational crisis requires both the ability and courage of our state-level leadership, along with the honesty to face reality, and the sensitivity to recognize that their actions will affect the future of millions of children. To a few all of these seem to be adequately measured, but for many others they are confirmed by history as epochal failures.