Education has been suffering across the world due to Covid-19. The pandemic has resulted in disruption to life as people knew it. In most countries, the pandemic has resulted in the closing of classrooms and the deprivation of face-to-face contact and teaching. This has had an especially devastating impact for countries in the developing world. In rural India where internet facilities are still sparse to non-existent, the impact has been particularly terrible for students who are in need for education. While speaking to Education Times, Umakant Kumar, a headmaster in Banka Uttar Pradesh state, named states:
“The academic level of students has gone down to ground zero due to the prolonged closure of schools. The slight improvement that the students showed prior to the emergence of pandemic has completely disappeared. The syllabus for various classes has also not been completed which further adds to the challenges faced by us. Little that students knew, has also gone amiss due to the long gap in studies caused by the pandemic. Now when schools have reopened, we are helping students to retune them to the schooling culture and also working on how to bridge the learning deficiencies. It would be a herculean task at hand for us to complete a year’s syllabus in just a month as we haven’t been able to teach anything due to the closure of schools.”
In Mahahrashtra state, Kashinath D Bhoir, principal of Maharashtra Military school in Murbad town of Thane district says “Students have suffered a lot due to the closure of schools since the last two years as they have forgotten to read and write. Their writing speed has also decreased to a great extent. In addition to this, due to online classes many studies have got addicted to playing games on their mobile phones which also adds up to the weakening of their academic base.”
The real-life issues faced by the students and the education system can also be seen from a numbers perspective to gain a better idea of where things truly stand in India.
A study by the Institute for South Asian Studies in October 2021 estimates that schools in India had been closed for 69 weeks, which is the largest among the major economies. As a result of this, 1.5 million schools were shut down and 247 million primary and secondary students have been out of school since the lockdown of March 2020. A well-known Belgian born Indian economist Jean Dreze notes that in India’s poorest state, Jharkhand, close to “35 per cent of the students in cities and 42 per cent of the students in villages could not read more than few letters.”
In another state, Andhra Pradesh, as of mid-July 2021, “60,000 dropouts were estimated and enrolment for Grade 1 was only at 25 per cent.”
Due to these problems, hard-earned gains that India made since the early 1990s in educating the population and thus bringing Indian talent to professions such as IT, BPO, financial services to the forefront may be lost in the long term. Between the 1950s and the 1980s, upward mobility had barely changed in India thus creating a situation in which income remained stagnant. The kind of jobs created before the 1990s also as a result remained poor.
The school closures due to the pandemic has led to “learning losses from prolonged school closures” that “could cost India more than U$400 billion (S$542.88 billion) in future earnings, and could also result in social problems, income inequality and a ceiling on upward mobility” notes the study.
It is thus imperative for India to revive economic growth and prioritize the education of students with the urgency it deserves so that another lost generation as from the 50s the 80s is avoided.
By Aniruddh Rajendran