Sometime in the second week of March, state governments across the country began shutting down schools and colleges temporarily as a measure to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. It’s close to two months and there is no certainty when they will reopen. This is a crucial time for the education sector. As the days pass by with no immediate solution to stop the outbreak of Covid-19, school closures will not only have a short-term impact on the continuity of learning but will also have far-reaching consequences. The structure of schooling and learning, including teaching and assessment methodologies, was the first to be affected by these closures. Only a handful of private schools could adopt online teaching methods. Their low-income private and government school counterparts, on the other hand, have completely shut down for not having access to e-learning solutions.
Impacts on education:
- School and university closures will not only have a short-term impact on the continuity of learning for more than 285 million young learners in India but also engender far-reaching economic and societal consequences.
- The pandemic has significantly disrupted the higher education sector as well, which is a critical determinant of a country’s economic future.
- A large number of Indian students—second only to China—enroll in universities abroad, especially in countries worst affected by the pandemic, the US, UK, Australia and China.
- Many such students have now been barred from leaving these countries. If the situation persists, in the long run, a decline in the demand for international higher education is expected.
- The bigger concern, however, on everybody’s mind is the effect of the disease on the employment rate. Recent graduates in India are fearing withdrawal of job offers from corporates because of the current situation.
- The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy’s estimates on unemployment shot up from 8.4% in mid-March to 23% in early April and the urban unemployment rate to 30.9%.
What do school closures mean for the community?
- The impact on education is likely to cause losses in terms of dropout rates and learning outcomes, especially in regions with low shock-resilience. Children have fewer opportunities of learning from home. Further, closure of schools is likely to lead to parents missing work, in order to stay at home and take care of the children. This also affects productivity, incurs loss in wages, consequently affecting the community and the economy as a whole.
- A large number of health-care professionals are women. Their work may be disrupted by the presence of their children at home due to school closures, causing unintended strain on health-care related systems.
Limited internet availability:
- The 75th report of the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) for 2017-18 highlights some of the major issues that this new model would have to address. All India percentage of households having internet facilities stands at 23.8% with rural availability at 14.9% and urban at 42%.
- The problem does not end there, as having a facility does not mean it would be used. The percentage of people who were able to use the internet (all-India) stood at 20.1% with rural at 13% and urban at 37.1%. Additionally, only 10.8% of people in India had used the internet in the last 30 days. It is important to note that these statistics vary vastly among different states across the country. For instance, Bihar stands at the lowest (9.1%) for individuals who have used the internet in 30 days, while Delhi has the highest number (49.1%) of such individuals with bigger states like Maharashtra (26%), Rajasthan (15.3%), Andhra Pradesh (14.8%) etc. being in the middle.
- These statistics strike at the core rationale of using the internet as a mode to impart education, and highlight how a majority of the country would be left out of the quest to achieve basic education in the months to come.
Increased responsibility of parents:
- Another important pillar of the new model is the increased role that parents play in educating their wards. Take, for example, the NCERT guidelines which – surprisingly has progressive methods of teaching to improve the analytical, quantitative, and logical reasoning abilities of the students – all key factors which our regular model of teaching and learning does not have. However, the guidelines presume that the parents will have the academic intellect to impart education to their students. But statistics highlight otherwise.
- The same NSSO survey, quoted above, highlights that 26.1% of the population above 15 years of age is ‘not literate’.
- The major challenge at the national level is the seamless integration of technology in the present Indian education system, which is the most diverse and largest in the world with more than 15 lakh schools and 50,000 higher education institutions.
- Further, it is also important to establish quality assurance mechanisms and quality benchmark for online learning .
- Many e-learning players offer multiple courses on the same subjects with different levels of certifications, methodology and assessment parameters. So, the quality of courses may differ across different e-learning platforms.
- Democratization of technology is now an important issue, comprising internet connectivity, telecom infrastructure, affordability of online system, availability of laptop/desktop, software, educational tools, online assessment tools, etc
- While the damage to the sector is similar to the damage every sector across the world is facing, it is possible that with some careful planning, we might be able to limit the long-term consequences of this prolonged shutdown.
- For all this to be a reality, a drastic change in thought process is required in the mind- set of policy makers, authorities, students and specially educationists.
- Faculty selection should gradually be linked to technology friendliness and keenness for technology adoption.
- To begin with, the districts in the green zone should be allowed to open schools – after analysing them further over the next few days.
- Exploring the possibility of digital learning, high and low technology solutions etc on the basis of power supply, digital skills of teachers and students, and internet connectivity
- Inclusion in distance learning programs, especially for students coming from low-income groups or presence of disability, etc.
- Providing support for digitalization to teachers as well as students
- Strict social distancing measures should be implemented, and to limit the number of students, classes may run in two four-hour shifts or odd even rule
- Additionally, there is a need to develop a financial stimulus for the education sector primarily targeting low cost private aided and unaided schools – which are likely to witness a reduction in fee collections, due to income losses.
- While understandably, India as a developing country does not have unlimited resources, certain core sectors including education cannot simply be left as the last priority. Similar to other sectors, which are witnessing a staggered opening, the education sector needs to be opened in a staggered way.
- These 12 years of education are crucial for every student and are the base years that will support the upward social and economic mobility of disadvantaged classes. A long and unplanned hiatus is likely to shatter the dreams of many and further harm the country in the long-term with a less-educated workforce. We need more talented and skilled individuals to get us out of the possible recession that the world is going to face and dropping the ball on education, is not going to help the cause.