By K Raveendran
In the government’s initiatives to counter the economic and social impacts of Covid pandemic, education seems to have received the least priority, as this sector has been considered as most expendable because the impact of such neglect is not immediately discernible. The response of the government, educational institutions as well as educators to the crisis appeared to be totally confused, and the continued disruption of academic activity due to the pandemic has meant that there has been little improvement in the situation. The most vulnerable segment is school education.
Online learning, with all its limitations drawbacks, has helped in continuing schooling to a limited extent. But education is more than learning and plays a crucial role in moulding the future citizens in their social and cultural behaviour and responses and the development of their personality. As such, any problems at this level will have very serious implications that could even have a bearing on the nation’s future. Our response so far has failed to consider this aspect with the importance that it deserves.
According to estimates by the UNESCO report, the pandemic-induced disruption has affected more than 90 percent of total the world’s student population, accounting for over 120 crore students and youths across the planet. The estimate for India is that more than 32 crores of students have been affected, of which about 14 crore are primary and 13 crore secondary level students.
As a United Nations points out in a report on Education During Covid-19 and Beyond, the crisis is exacerbating pre-existing education disparities by reducing the opportunities for many of the most vulnerable children, youth, and adults living in poor or rural areas, girls, refugees, persons with disabilities and forcibly displaced persons to continue their learning. Learning losses also threaten to extend beyond this generation and erase decades of progress, not least in support of girls and young women’s educational access and retention.
Similarly, the disruption will continue to have substantial effects beyond education. Closures of educational institutions hamper the provision of essential services to children and communities, including access to nutritious food, affect the ability of many parents to work, and increase risks of violence against women and girls. As fiscal pressures increase, and development assistance comes under strain, the financing of education could also face major challenges, exacerbating massive pre-COVID-19 education funding gaps.
According to UN, the interruption of the school year will have a disproportionately negative impact on the most vulnerable pupils, those for whom the conditions for ensuring continuity of learning at home are limited. Their presence at home can also complicate the economic situation of parents, who must find solutions to provide care or compensate for the loss of school meals. Domestic chores, especially for girls, and the work required to run households or farms, can also prevent children from getting sufficient learning time. Children with disabilities who were already marginalized before the outbreak are not always included in strategies of distance learning.
The most vulnerable learners are also among those who have poor digital skills and the least access to the hardware and connectivity required for distance learning solutions implemented during school closures. The learning loss, in the short and long term, is expected to be great. The World Bank has identified three possible scenarios for the loss of learning: a reduction in average learning levels for all students, a widening of the distribution of learning achievements due to highly unequal effects of the crisis on various populations, or a significant increase of students with very low level of achievement due in part to massive dropouts. This suggests 25 per cent more students may fall below a baseline level of proficiency needed to participate effectively and productively in society, and in future learning, a result of the school closures only.
According to the UN report, the impact might be the strongest in the foundational years of education. Simulations have suggested that without remediation, a loss of learning by one-third (equivalent to a three-month school closure) during Grade 3 might result in 72 per cent of students falling so far behind that by Grade 10 they will have dropped out or will not be able to learn anything in school. In addition to the learning loss, the economic impact on households is likely to widen the inequities in education achievement. Should millions be pushed into severe poverty, empirical evidence shows that children from households in the poorest sections are significantly less likely to complete primary and lower secondary education than those in the richest bracket. (IPA Service)