(Mains GS 2 : Government Policies and Interventions for Development in various sectors and Issues arising out of their Design and Implementation.)
- A joint report by UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Bank, ‘The State of the Global Education Crisis: A Path to Recovery’, released in early December 2021 had estimated that in the first 21 months of the pandemic, schools in countries around the world were either partially or fully closed for an average of 224 days.
- During the same period, schools in Indian States were closed for physical classes, for almost twice the duration, i.e., between 450 days to 480 days.
Stay with humanity:
- The COVID-19 pandemic has unarguably emerged as the biggest disruption in the field of school education in the last 100 years.
- However, just when schools, parents and children have begun getting accustomed to regular offline classes, there are reports of an uptick in COVID-19 cases in Indian States including a few cases of children testing COVID-19 positive.
- This has again whipped up the demand from some sections of parents to move back to hybrid classes.
- This demand for shifting to hybrid mode or that of partial closure with every single case in schoolchildren is not scientifically supported and could prove a big threat to school education in India because SARS-CoV-2 will stay with humanity in the months and years to follow.
Low adverse outcomes:
- Children are a part of family and society; therefore, when COVID-19 cases are being reported in a community, children are also likely to test positive.
- However, two years into the pandemic, what is proven is that while children do get SARS-CoV-2 infection at the same rate as adults, the probability of adverse outcome of moderate to severe disease is very low.
- 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).
Ensure learning recovery:
- The recurring discourse on whether to move to hybrid classes or when to close schools is proving a big distraction from more pressing challenges in school education, namely, ‘the learning loss’.
- It is time the Education Departments in every State lead the process so as to ensure that every school in every district ensures that no child has dropped out from the education system, and that every eligible child is enrolled.
- Special attention is needed for the enrolment of all children and girls, especially poor, backward, rural, urban slum-dwellers.
- The learning loss during the last two years is humongous and ‘learning recovery’ should be the priority of every State government.
- There has to be focus on the need to assess the learning level of children and then strategies for learning recovery.
- To ensure the success of such efforts, school teachers will need support and the training to accommodate the learning levels and needs of children.
- Innovative approaches and the participation of civil society organisations working in the field of education need to be explored.
Increase financial allocation:
- Looking at the pandemic in the ‘rear view mirror’, it is time that every Indian State re-assesses the challenges in school education.
- Subject experts must examine the recommendations made in the National Education Policy 2020 in context of pandemic-related challenges, and fresh operational strategies must be developed and implemented in an accelerated manner.
- In India, government spending on education accounts for about 3% of GDP, which is almost half the average for the education spending of low- and middle-income countries.
- The time has come for both the Union and State governments in India to increase financial allocation for school education.
- There are studies and reports that mental health issues and needs in school-age children have doubled in the pandemic period.
- This calls for making provision for mental health services and counselling sessions for the school-age children.
- The Education and Health Departments in Indian States need to work together to ensure regular services such as school health, mental health as well as a health check-up for schoolchildren.
- There are 12 crore children in India whose nutritional status is dependent on these school meals.
- Any disruption in the supply of school meals also means a lack of sufficient nutrition for these children, and thus their weakened immunity and higher susceptibility to various infections.
- The supplementary nutrition programme in schools will essentially ensure that children remain protected from the severe outcome of COVID-19.
- In addition, learning from the pandemic, hand washing with soap and water and toilet facilities should be improved in every school, especially in rural and government schools.
- This will also prepare schools in preventing the possible spread of COVID-19 and also reduce other water-borne illnesses in school-age children.
- Realising the challenges posed by the pandemic, the Government needs to take every necessary step to bring school education back on track and develop a road map for learning recovery.