Handling this pandemic is like playing a million flutes together, each connected to the other. We are probably quick-witted enough to discern that one wrong note would make the oddly steady stream, carelessly broken.
From the second week of March, state governments across the nation have shut down all schools and colleges as a measure to contain the spread of coronavirus. With time, there doesn't seem to be any counter measure that has been adopted for reopening of schools. This not only has a temporary impact on the continuity of learning of 285 million students, but also engenders long term socioeconomic consequences. Needless to mention the age-old traditional method has been replaced by a hybrid model, driven by technology. We, as stakeholders, are pretty much on the beam that virtual classes are no substitute for traditional teaching.
The elite schools did not waste time to relocate itself on a digital platform. School children got themselves evened up with the curriculum to catch up with the academic year.
But teachers are far from being satisfied by a virtual approach, compelled with the near enough essence of the brick and mortar classrooms with online classrooms. The inaccessibility to oversee the students, to keep track of their progress, monitor their struggle and help them overcome are merely some of the challenges. On the other hand, students have the choice to disengage from the class merely by switching off the cameras.
Tipping the balance
What happens to the students who belong to the lower socio-economic strata, who are the nucleus of the digital divide? The ASER report survey has confirmed the absence of school readiness among 5 year olds.
Only 23.5% of children in anganvadis or government preschool could do a listening comprehension task.
36.8% could do a counting objects task.
It is a fact that the first eight years of development of a child’s brain is extremely crucial because if he acquires the developmentally appropriate skills at this time, he is more likely to finish school successfully. Indian early childhood education impact study by Ambedkar University confirms that the origin of learning crisis starts even before a child enters grade 1.
Many children are underage before they enter grade 1 which leads to mismatch in learning ability, the cognitive skills are better acquired by a 6-year-old than a 5-year-old in the same class. 65% of rural India is dependent on Anganvadis, where the health and nutrition factor overtakes the learning aspect.
The pandemic has definitely widened the learning gap among these children. Most students have fallen behind where they otherwise would have been, if they had been in the classroom. The disparity gap has also widened in access to computers, internet connections and e-library.
The dropout rate will for surely rise and early childhood education and care is deeply affected because of the educational lockdown. The parents of this stratum are obviously ill-equipped to give the backend support to their children, which will lead to further chasms in the existing inequality.
Besides we have been completely short-sighted about the children who belong to the special needs classification. Online education is a huge challenge for children with ADHD and ASD. So we have to design a programme to accommodate children who are differently abled.
Schools after reopening will definitely tend to this regression by reviewing skills and content. Additionally, we understand there is nothing called ’safely reopen’ since the impact of the virus will not be negated until there is a vaccine or treatment in place.
Everyone is drowning in the uncertainty of a condition drenched in vague conclusion that we tend to play past, the pandemic specter that floats on the psyche of every school going child.
They are gridlocked inside their houses. Parents are living with the constant fear of their children being infected. Therefore, the anxiety to shield them from a virus is imminent, and when we learning it about every day.
Schools have to reopen following close guidelines which might include smaller class size, regular temperature checks, sanitizing booths, increased availability to sinks. Till then, we live in the hope and an unspoken prayer that a stitch in time saves nine; and that digital learning is indeed the perfect choice of fabric to withstand the stitch of learning.
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