ANALYSIS/ KS Shankar/ New DelhiKS Shankar
THE Coronavirus epidemic has created many never-to-imagine situations around the world. As a planet, we are going through an unfortunate phase where the global order has taken a disruptive hit. Many believe that it is perhaps impossible to recover from this pandemic-created sinkhole, as Covid-19 has already resulted in travel bans, exchange of a slew of accusations between governments and a massive spread of xenophobia, concomitant with the spread of the indefatigable virus.
The impact of Coronavirus has hit each and every sector around the world; and India took a major hit in terms of infections and the economic costs due to the lockdown. In a span of a few months, the Chinese-induced pandemic has changed the education landscape across the world and the system remains paralysed in India also. The Right to Education has taken a back seat in light of this deadly virus and virtual classrooms are being heralded.
These risk-control decisions have paved the way for alternative, innovative modes of knowledge transfer, be it home-schooling or online classes, especially in the worst affected countries.
These innovations during unprecedented times of crisis have made a lasting impact on the trajectory of learning and digitisation. With lockdown restrictions relaxed by many governments, we have to see how these new models will help educational institutions resume their classroom sessions soon.
People have been lamenting the slow-paced, traditional teaching practices that follow the centuries-old lecture-based approaches in outdated classrooms. Today, Covid-19 has become the catalyst for change in our educational institutes, which are opening up to online education. Amid the pandemic, we also empathise with all the teachers in India who have adapted to the new technology to change the teaching environment.
Students too have adapted to home-learning from March by online learning through video interactions for serious learning and lighter subjects, such as, physical education or music. Students are shooting videos and sending them to their teachers as “homework”. With high-speed technology becoming more prevalent, we have been witnessing learners and solution-providers truly embracing the ‘learn anywhere, anytime’ concept of digital education in a range of formats.
The outbreak of Covid-19 has advised us that change is inevitable. It has worked as a catalyst for the educational institutions to grow and opt for platforms and techniques, which have not been used before. The education sector has been fighting to survive the crises with a different approach and digitising the challenges to overcome the threat of the pandemic.
According to a UNESCO report, the pandemic has affected more than 90 per cent of the world’s student population during mid-April 2020 which got reduced to nearly 67 per cent by June 2020. Outbreak of Covid-19 has impacted more than 120 crore students and youths across the planet. As per the UNESCO report, about 14 crore of primary and 13 crore of secondary students are affected which are the two mostly affected levels in India.
As schools in the affected areas have been finding new solutions to impart knowledge, the quality of teaching largely depends on the quality of digital access. Not only has video conferencing through Zoom being used by students and teachers, learning has happened on WhatsApp messenger and email too, especially in the rural areas.
In a nation like China that practises a considerably more centralized system, a change to digital learning may be simpler. Even in a nation like the US, there are some low-pay students who don’t approach broad bands and unable to use the computerized learning arrangement (Study Abroad Life). The same happens with India where not every student is well-equipped with the high-speed internet and digital gadgets and are along these lines of sufferers. Numerous advanced educational institutions in India are not also equipped with digital facilities right now to cope with sudden change from traditional education set-up to the online education system.
The bigger concern, however, on everybody’s mind is the effect of the disease on the employment rate. Recent graduates in India fear withdrawal of job offers from corporates. The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy’s estimates on unemployment shot up from 8.4 per cent in mid-March to 23 per cent in early April and the urban unemployment rate to 30.9 per cent.
Needless to say, the pandemic has transformed the centuries-old, chalk–talk teaching model to one driven by technology. This disruption in the delivery of education is pushing policymakers to figure out how to drive engagement at scale while ensuring inclusive e-learning solutions and tackling the digital divide.
How will the education sector and educators deal to overcome these challenges? How will children continue to learn, even as school, by necessity, becomes a digital space? These are the questions posed by many educationists.
Coronavirus has also hit access to the free midday meals in schools, the primary reason why so many students attend school; and there is a chance that India’s dropout rate-which is already among the world’s highest-might increase further. Children below the age of 8 years need parental support just to do the basics. Even then, their learning experience is below par. With schools already online for a few weeks now, there is enough data to suggest online schools can help children of all age groups but are not an alternative to the brick and mortar schools.
As India’s covid tally continues to rise rapidly with daily spike of more than 60,000 new cases, opening of schools across the country has been fraught with health risks.
The Union Government, on Unlock 5.0 guidelines, had on September 30 given the flexibility to states and Union Territories the freedom to open schools from October 15 in a graded manner and on a case-to-case basis in consultations with educational institutes management. Many states, including Karnataka, Delhi, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Tamil Nadu have decided to keep the schools closed till October 31. Uttarakhand is expected to announce the decision soon.
Uttar Pradesh has decided to opt for a phased re-opening of schools beginning October 15. Assam, Haryana and Jammu and Kashmir are undecided on whether they should fully reopen schools from October 15.
Meanwhile, the Union Ministry of Education on October five issued guidelines for re-opening of schools after October 15 during the Unlock 5 phase. The guidelines have been issued in accordance with the Department of School Education and Literacy (DoSEL). As per the guidelines, schools and coaching institutions can open in a graded manner. The ministry said that States/UTs may adopt or adapt to the standard operating procedure (SoP) as per local context and requirements. The guidelines for reopening of schools are in two parts — one, the SOP for health, hygiene, and safety; and the other for learning with physical and social distancing.
The guidelines stated that the SOP for health, hygiene and safety includes the preparations the schools have to do before reopening, such as proper cleaning and sanitisation of the school, provision for hand wash and disinfection, seating plan, safe transport plan, staggering of time table and classes, precaution at entry and exit points, and arrangements for safe residential stay at hostels and sensitisation of students, teachers, school authorities, school management committees, and parents.
The SOP also provides safety protocols to be followed after the re-opening of schools; such as maintaining physical/social distancing norms by keeping a minimum 6 feet gap between each other, wearing of masks at all times in the classroom, laboratory and play areas, maintaining hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette and screening before entry into the school and students may attend schools only with the written consent of parents.
The guidelines further stated that there will be flexibility in attendance norms and students may opt for online classes. The SOP also emphasizes on following the health protocols as advised by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Moreover, precautions to be taken for preparing and serving mid-day meals in schools are laid down in the SOP.
RIGHT TO EDUCATION
Education is a human right and an indispensable means of realising other human rights. Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, ‘’learning poverty’ was already at an all-time high. School closures are certainly necessary to curtail the spread of Covid-19. However, states must use necessary means and implement effective methods to safeguard the right to education. The education system in India is anxious to catch up with the pandemic-induced changes to teaching and learning.
In times of crises, when the vulnerable groups of the society need more protection, it is rather regrettable that they are the worst-affected. These unprecedented times call for strong and meaningful steps to protect the weak and the marginalised, rather than leaving them in the lurch. -IHN=NN
INDIA HERE AND NOW