Building back to avert a learning catastrophe 

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News: Recently, a joint report by UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Bank, ‘The State of the Global Education Crisis: A Path to Recovery’, was released related to the Covid-19 impact on school education. 

What were the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic?  

Schools in countries around the world were either partially or fully closed. This emerged as the biggest disruption in the field of school education in the last 100 years. It would take many more months in comprehending the medium- and long-term impact of school closure. 

What are the emerging threats of issues in the coming future? 

Probably the threat of a new wave of Covid-19 has led to suggestions for the partial closure of schools or even temporary. In addition, there are demands for roll-out of the hybrid mode 

This education spending stands at about 3% of GDP at present. This is almost half the average for the education spending of low- and middle-income countries. 

The mental health issues and needs in school-age children have doubled in the pandemic period.  

Should schools be closed in future? 

The demands for partial closure or even temporary closure are not scientifically supported. SARS-CoV-2 will stay with humanity in the months and years to follow. Therefore, ‘open and shut’ mode for schools is impractical, unnecessary, unscientific and unethical. It could prove a big threat to school education in India. 

In most cases, students are getting the infection from family members instead of schools because children are a part of family and society. In fact, even before schools were re-opened, successive seroprevalence-surveys across Indian States have reported that nearly 70% to 90% of all children had already got infection (thus protected). 

The probability of adverse outcome of moderate to severe disease is very low in case of infected children. The risk of COVID-19 in children is very low. It is far lower than other prevalent health concerns such as dengue, malaria and typhoid.  

Real learning does not happen in the four walls of homes or through online classes. It happens through in-person education or when teachers and other children are in school.  

What are the measures that the Govt needs to take?

The government should ensure that ‘no child’ has dropped out from the education system, and that every eligible child is enrolled. The special attention be given for the enrolment of all children and girls, especially poor, backward, rural, urban slum-dwellers.  

The government should focus on how to deal with ‘the learning loss’. They should assess the learning level of children and strategize for learning recovery in the coming months.  

The curriculum should be consolidated and teaching time should be increased. 

The school teachers should be trained to accommodate the learning levels and needs of children. For example, the Delhi Government has launched the mentor teacher initiative 

The National Education Policy 2020 recommendations in the context of pandemic-related challenges should be studied. They should be implemented in an accelerated manner.  

The Union and State governments in India should increase financial allocation for school education. 

The State Education and Health Departments need to work together to ensure regular services such as school health, mental health services, counselling as well as a health check-up for schoolchildren.

The mid-day meal services are important for the nutritional status of 12 crore children in India. Its absence led to weakened immunity and higher susceptibility to various infections. Therefore, supplementary nutrition programme should be launched to protect children from the severe outcome of COVID-19.  

In addition, hand washing; and water, soap and toilet facilities should be improved. These can prevent the possible spread of COVID-19 & water-borne illnesses in school-age children.  

Governments, parents, communities and schools need to work together. The government can explore the participation of civil society organisations working in the field of education.  

Source: The post is based on an article “Building back to avert a learning catastrophe” published in The Hindu on 28th April 2022. 

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