Post Mortem

Covid-19: Preserving the gains on education

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 11/15/2020 2:00:22 PM IST

 It’s the job of institutions and government to provide infrastructure. We need a coherent policy tailored to specific regions and needs that will look at the complexities of online learning.

In Kerala, a 14-year-old girl set herself ablaze in June because she could not attend online classes since she didn’t have a smartphone. Kerala is one of the few states that offers classes on TV, but the set at home had stopped working a long time ago. In West Bengal, a 16-year-old girl hanged herself after her brother accidentally damaged the smartphone they shared.

A second-year scholarship student in Delhi’s Lady Shri Ram College, the daughter of a mechanic and a tailor, returned to Telangana following the closure of the college hostel. In her dying note, she said she did not want to financially burden her parents and asked that the scholarship money due to her should be paid to them.

Some fledgling efforts have been launched. Alumni of colleges and schools have stepped up to raise funds for devices for students in need. St. Stephen’s alumni have raised Rs. 200,000 so far. That’s a tiny drop in Delhi University, where 42% of students say they lack devices, connectivity or finances for data packs. What about rural India where only 15% of households have internet? Such a gaping gap needs institutional aid or corporate social responsibility funding. In a Delhi slum, a schoolgirl I had interviewed told me that she and her sister shared a single smartphone between them and took turns to attend classes. Half classes were better than no classes, she figured. If classes have gone online due to the pandemic, you have to ask who is benefitting from them. Unless every student can access this learning, you are only serving to exacerbate existing socio-economic and gender gaps.

Anurag Behar, CEO, Azim Premji Foundation, advocates community-based classes for school children: Get the teachers to go to the mohallas where the children live; collect five to 15 of them, whoever lives in that mohalla and is anyway interacting closely; and conduct classes in a community space. In places where Covid-19 numbers are rising sharply, keep classes shut. “If it’s a trade-off between the lives of people and six months of academic loss, which will you choose? At the same time why should we keep schools shut where the risk is minimal or can be managed?” he asks. Where numbers are flattening, classes can go on, but the risk can be minimised — schools can run on alternative days for half the students, for instance. It’s the job of institutions and government to provide infrastructure. We need a coherent policy tailored to specific regions and needs that will look at the complexities of online learning.

Education, particularly the education of girls and the near-universal enrolment in primary and secondary education, has been India’s success story thanks to imaginative schemes such as mid-day meals and free bicycles.Education during Covid-19 conditions needs a similar ability to reimagine learning coupled with a big dose of empathy, lest we lose the gains made in recent years.

Namita Bhandare

Launched on December 3,1990. Nagaland Post is the first and highest circulated newspaper of Nagaland state. Nagaland Post is also the first newspaper in Nagaland to be published in multi-colour.

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