Indian Educationist Col Sekhar Investigates The Consequences Of School Shutdown So Far

Col A Sekhar
Indian Educationist Col Sekhar Investigates The Consequences Of School Shutdown So Far

"It's a complete loss of a physical school year….OMG."

"Ek saal school nahi gaye toh kaunsa pahaad tootne wale hai...kya farak padta hai?"

"Online fatigue is rising and the consequences are beginning to affect all of us…"

(reference: https://theprint.in/india/education/as-online-classes-drag-on-fatigued-students-losing-interest-becoming-asocial-say-parents/542253/)

"We have managed to save substantial fees for a year…invaluable when our incomes have collapsed….our children will make up next year."

"100 lakh teachers and staff not paid, over a lakh school have collapsed…suicides…"

The above quotes, from a school Principal, a male parent, media article, a female parent and from a deeply distressed budget school association leader, respectively, sum up the reality of schooling in India today.

Gingerly, some states have reopened schools this month for grades 9-12. The vast majority of states are unwilling, or more pertinently, less focused on this issue, for lack of even basic understanding of the challenges involved and revealing a severe lack of understanding of the long term consequences to India as a nation, when its 320 million students (Schools and Colleges together) have not been to their physical temples of learning since 25th March 2020.

Financially, a World Bank Study quoted by The Hindu of 12 Oct 2020 paints a grim picture:

“The extended closure of schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic could dent India’s future earnings by anywhere between $420 billion and $600 billion, as depleted learning levels of students will translate into poorer productivity going forward, the World Bank has said.”

After extensive conversations with informed stakeholders, my distilled understanding is that, for the scholastic world, it is almost a perfect storm - governments unwilling to see reason or make parents see reason, parents using this once in a lifetime opportunity to settle scores with “profiteering private schools", vested interests fishing in muddied waters, creating confusion, fear and organized disinformation.

Online learning has not quite been the nirvana it was purported to be; scratch below the surface and it is easy to see that the tech companies are also in deep business trouble. Excluding the Googles and Microsofts, of course. 

Some of the consequences for students are beginning to be visible as enumerated below:

  • Lockdown fatigue
  • Online fatigue
  • Socioemotional challenges
  • Anti-social behaviour
  • Physical, verbal, psychological violence
  • Visiting inappropriate sites
  • Learning and understanding challenges
  • Overweight and obesity issues increasing by the day
  • Increasing disobedience and indiscipline
  • Claustrophobia and irritability

The above illustrative points coupled with increased sexual violence on children and significantly increased child labour and malnutrition (with school meals not available) have the potential to make our present demographic dividend rapidly hurtle towards a disaster.

Schools, within the limitations they are in, have done a remarkable job in getting schooling online under very difficult circumstances, yet the lack of money combined with teacher-motivation drops have made the situation worse.

The COVID situation has settled down; to expect schools to reopen only after zero cases are reported is silly. Does that mean, in the future, if there is one case of flu in the district, all schools will remain closed?

The Finance Minister has had many stimulus packages christened like Atmanirbhar Bharat 1, 2, etc.

Now is the time for the Finance Minister, in close conjunction with the Education Minister, to create a special package for the education industry named Shikshanirbar Bharat, with its prime focus on unlocking physical scholastic establishments and creating an economic environment for the institutions to survive. The following proposals are highlighted:

  1. Reopen schools one day in a week for every student (with COVID protocols) at the earliest.
  2. Form district-wise oversight committees of eminent educators and public health specialists to monitor school protocols and improve upon them.
  3. Gradually, after due diligence, extend them to two days in a week till March 2021.
  4. Create a special economic package for the over 1 lakh schools which have gone bust.
  5. Work out a vaccination programme between February and May 2021 for students.
  6. Get schools to buy into the programme fully and make them responsible.
  7. Introduce special vacation classes for accelerated learning.
  8. Reset the next academic year as - 3 days of face to face classes, 1 day of bagless school,1 day of online classes, and keeping Saturday as a half-day for tests and other activities.
  9. Reorganize/revise the syllabus. In this, the 2021-22 academic year is the distilled best of 2 years of learning compressed into one, in order to minimize the learning gaps.
  10. Involve quality NGOs that are doing stellar work.
  11. Consult with the State Governments and evolve a workable consensus.

 “Without prioritizing children, we could lose an entire generation as evidence mounts that the number of child labourers, child marriages, school dropouts and child slaves has increased as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe." - Kailash Satyarthi, Nobel Laureate             

Need I say more?

About the author: Colonel A Sekhar is a Soldier and Educationist Leader

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