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Need to Reopen schools and address the learning losses

by Vijay Garg
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Young students have forgotten writing notes, numeracy skills, reading abilities and tables facebook sharing buttontwitter sharing 
 Intermittent school closures have caused an almost insurmountable learning loss among students. Data from various factsheets, reports and surveys present a grim picture of how students from classes I-XII were affected by the pandemic-related school closures. Children have lost writing, reading and numeracy skills; many young students in under-resourced schools have trouble recognising alphabets, while many others have forgotten tables beyond those of 2 and 3.
Educators say that the time is ripe for the reopening of schools, to begin catch-up programmes and remedial classes to bridge the learning gap. They point out that large-scale vaccination programmes and strict following of Covid protocols can help in keeping children in schools.
According to a factsheet released by UNESCO, “more than 616 million students remain affected by full or partial school closures. Many have lost basic numeracy and literacy skills and learning loss due to school closures have left up to 70% of 10-year-old children unable to read or understand a simple text, up from 53% pre-pandemic in low- and middle-income countries.”
Boston Consulting Group (BCG), a global consulting firm, and Teach for India, a fellowship that helps under-resourced schools, compared how other countries and some Indian states have dealt with continuing education through Covid; their findings are compiled in a report titled ‘India Needs To Learn — A Case for Keeping Schools Open.’ The report reveals that while schools were mostly shut in 2020 (first half), many countries kept schools largely open through subsequent waves. In 2021, many countries including Japan, South Africa, US, UK, and Portugal had schools operational in-person for large parts of the year. In fact, many countries such as France, Canada and UK prioritised keeping schools open vis-a-vis malls, shops, and gyms. In late December 2021, 70% districts in India had less than 25 daily cases. However, with the approaching third wave, most states imposed state-wide school closures.
The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2021 for Chhattisgarh says that in the pre-Covid -19 period basic learning outcomes in the state were promising, but Covid-19 caused schools to shut for in-person classes, leading to a drastic drop in children’s foundational reading and arithmetic levels in primary classes.
The report is based on a survey of 46,021 children in the age category of 3-16 years in 33,432 households across 28 districts of Chhattisgarh.
Recently, findings of a parliamentary committee highlighted the disproportionate impact of Covid on the education of girls. Education ministry submitted that “school closures in India have affected 320 million children enrolled from pre-primary to tertiary levels of education. It has been estimated that of these, about 158 million are female students.”
Back on track
Educators say that children have forgotten how to write descriptive answers and it will take years of hard work to get them back on track. “They find it difficult to write answers for subjective type questions. Students in junior classes will still be able to bridge the learning gap, but those in class XI and XII, who have spent the past two years attending online classes from home will face the heat. They will be entering the university system with a weak foundation. Schools will have to revise the curriculum from the previous grade for which they mostly attended classes online,” says Sridhar G, founder, Chethana PU College, a pre-university college in Bengaluru, affiliated to Karnataka Pre-University Education Board. An IIT-Kharagpur graduate and a PhD from Johns Hopkins, Sridhar G says that focussing on STEM education can help the country shed covid-induced shackles.
Once the schools reopen, we will go slow in completing the syllabus. We will be conducting remediation classes to bridge gaps we come across through assessment. There have been no lab classes and the writing, reading, and numeracy skills have suffered a lot. It will be a challenge for schools to keep them away from gadgets when they return to schools.”
Children from lower-income groups and under-resourced schools have not been able to attend online classes at all in some cases. “Schools must start with proper safety and Covid protocols. Students from lower-income families do not have enough smartphones, on average there are three-four children in a family, in different grades with varied class timings. It gets to be very difficult for their parents to provide them with a smartphone or a laptop each. Most children, who before the pandemic began, could recite tables up to 20, today cannot go beyond the tables of 2 and 3,” teachers says , to highlight the seriousness of the situation.

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Imphal Times is a daily English newspaper published in Imphal and is registered with Registrar of the Newspapers for India with Regd. No MANENG/2013/51092


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