In some of the Indian states, schools have reopened and some states are thinking of reopening them in a few weeks. But there are instances where schools have been closed again after reopening. This happened in many European countries like the United Kingdom and Germany. There are also instances of Denmark and Norway where schools were opened in April or May in a staggered manner.
The closure of educational institutes has highly affected the students. The worst sufferers have been the poor students and those who depend only on government-aided schools for their education. A lot of schools tried to continue teaching online. But a lot of students have no access to the internet. Lack of continuous internet and electricity and the inability of many of the guardians to purchase android phones for their wards have emerged as major deterrents to education.
A visible change
During the pandemic induced lockdown and in the following phases, the state and education administrations have been taking key decisions without the participation of important stakeholders of the education sector – namely, the teachers, students and parents.
The decision of a massive shift towards online education is being rationalised by many people. Some social scientists observe the phenomenon as a Hobson’s choice of either online education or no education at all (Of Access and Inclusivity, Economic and Political Weekly, September 5, 2020). It is also thought by many that there is virtually no difference between online education and in-person teaching. According to this view, education is considered primarily as only content delivering matter. Here the teaching condition is not considered. Whether teachers are willing, suitably equipped with necessary skills and are comfortable in teaching online classes are questions that are ignored.
Should education be decentralised in governance and planning?
It has been a subject of long debate whether the education system should be decentralised or not. In many developed countries like the US and Canada, it is decentralised to a great extent. But regarding the reopening of schools, the idea of decentralisation has been a new matter for discussion. In many areas, there has been no new spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. In those areas, schools can be reopened with requisite precautions. Depending on the average distance travelled by students, density of student population, rearrangement of classes, controlling of lunch hours and other required protective measures, schools in many areas could have been reopened earlier.
Girl students are the worst hit
UNESCO, by citing the Global Education Monitoring study, pointed out a few months ago that the Covid-19 pandemic has triggered an educational crisis. It has created deep and multiple forms of inequality having gender roots and implications.
What sort of gender disparities has the pandemic created? One has been an increase in gender-based violence. Secondly, a section of girl students has suffered from a potential rise in teenage pregnancies or early marriages - dropping out from schools and colleges. This is due to the fact that girls were placed in a disadvantageous position due to the shift to online learning and also due to increased household responsibilities during the pandemic.
From past research experience, the UNESCO has pointed out, “One estimate is that Covid-19 could cause 13 million more child marriages over the next 10 years. There have been attempts, based on previous knowledge of the links between poverty and school attendance, to project the potential effect of Covid-19 on dropout.” The UNESCO suggests that 3.5% of adolescent girls of lower secondary school age and 4.1% of young women of upper secondary school age in sub-Saharan Africa are at risk of not returning to school. If there had been a similar study in India, that would surely have revealed the Indian situation in detail.
Even the higher education sector has been suffering from rising inequality in educational opportunities in this pandemic. College students in rural areas have faced almost a similar crisis in attending online classes as their school going counterparts. Digital divide and poverty are the most important problems. For instance, one of the foremost universities of the country, Jadavpur University could not start online classes for months as many students faced problems with regard to availability of mobile phones, online connectivity, and electrical connectivity at their homes.
If educational institutes are not reopened quickly, the educational sector will be badly hampered in India. Many observers have pointed out that in this phase, students have not only missed educational opportunities but have also unlearned or forgotten many things from their curriculums. A special policy is needed to make up this gap that has been created during the pandemic.