Impact of COVID-19 on School Education in India | ActionAid Association
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Impact of COVID-19 on School Education in India

Author: Anviksha Kaul; Intern; ActionAid Association
Posted on: Tuesday, 13th July 2021
March 25, 2020: The last day when 320 million students attended school physically in India. The coronavirus outbreak has created havoc in the lives of students as school closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the whole education system online. According to UNESCO, by the end of April 2020,186 countries have implemented nationwide closures, affecting about 73.8% of the total enrolled learners. Social distancing is the most essential preventive measure in curbing community transmission and flattening the curve and hence practical-physical schooling has, as a result,  been shut. All students have been affected. Online learning cannot substitute the immersive experience of school education. As one understands and believes, a student’s  overall psycho-social development takes place in the school. The overall development consists of social and challenging environments, engagement, communication, group work, value education, and play and relaxation time with peers. They learn and grow through the cycle of fun, play, art, music, sports and knowledge. While school closures might be necessary, it is important to take stock of its impact on students. There is a difference in knowing what we can do and what we must do; today we can create a massive opportunity for education if we do substantial work for strengthening public education in India. The question is: Are we doing enough, the right way? Students are now feeling demotivated and insecure and some are oblivious of what they are losing on. We are witnessing the biggest wave of sadness, confusion and anxiety amongst our youth and as several are battling their moods and fears, the most do not know how to operate a smart phone! The negative effects of COVID-19 can be seen in many ways the pandemic has had its impact on student life.

The Loss of Institutional Support

All schools and universities have created an online structure for day-to-day teaching and have also shifted online, postponed or cancelled many regular examinations, including entrance exams. This has increased the need for students to become adept at using gadgets and online platforms overnight. Schools where phones were not allowed now have classes entirely transacted online. Operating websites and appearing for examinations online has been a tough situation for many. Everyone has a different pace in adapting and many students are taking time getting used to screen life. This transition has also lead to a variety of mental health concerns among students including signs of depression, PTSD , anxiety and stress . Children are also disadvantaged by the lack of physical activity and the exposure given by a social environment like the school. The balance in their lives has gone for a toss and consequent alone time has resulted in depression and even loneliness in some children. Absence of school functions and social activity is being compensated by online group meetings and webinars and has recorded a decline in interest by students and teachers.  However, interesting ways are being generated to maintain the importance of co-curricular activities and friendship. This is the time to regain the leaking hope in our students.

Digital Unpreparedness of Teachers and Students

Those who were not familiar with technological tools faced great difficulties in teaching and took longer to connect with students. The unpreparedness caused disturbed classroom sessions, interrupted lectures, technical errors and glitches and hence students took time to adjust to the new set up as well. This required them to develop an extra skill set of technological usage and online learning. Various devices preferred by the respondents  of a recent study for attending online classes were smartphone (57.98%), laptop (35.83%), tablet (4.89%) and desktop (0.65%). Mobile data pack was the source of Internet for 82% of the respondents. Majority of the respondents (62%) said that WhatsApp was the best way to communicate class updates. This indicates that those who have access to technology and gadgets performed better than those who could not arrange for the same. It is the right of every child to have equitable access to education and our punctured schooling system can be made better with real ground work. Action Aid Association has facilitated the enrolment of 30,000 children in schools, 40% of them being girls and monitors more than 1500 schools for basic amenities and school management. ActionAid Association’s team reaches out to the invisible areas in India and establishes work right from the roots through a campaign to secure a child’s right to their childhood.

IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON EDUCATION OF STUDENTS IN POVERTY

For a country like India, online schooling is a near impossible step for 67% of the population that lives in rural areas and only half has access to Internet. Availability of electricity is a significant challenge to taking advantage of education online. In a recent 2017-18 survey, the Ministry of Rural Development found that only 47% of Indian households receive more than 12 hours of electricity and more than 36% of schools in India operate without electricity. Some schools have even shut down due to insufficient funds and resources. The changes brought on by COVID-19 created an evident distinction between the rich and the poor and while the students who are privileged to have access to better facilities can still have the opportunity to avail of study material, online lectures and information, those belonging to harder luck are still struggling to achieve the bare minimum. In rural area students have limited or no Internet access and numerous students may not be able to afford computer, laptop or smart mobile phones in their homes. Online schooling has created a digital split among students. The lockdown has led to extreme distress for students in India that come from an economically deprived background. Majority are unable to explore online learning according to various reports. An immediate solution for making educational supply easier for them is required.

What is the way forward?

COVID-19 has shown us the importance to make the Right to Education Act more effective. We need to recognize that however powerful the RTE Act is, it falls short of the vision of the Kothari Commission. In 1966 itself the Kothari Commission had spoken about the need for a Common School System, in which every child got universal education. ActionAid Association’s Yes to School Campaign understands the severity of out of school children’s consequently deteriorating situation. We should ensure that children, and especially girls stay in school by empowering communities, so they can work with the education system and district administrations to ensure that no child is out-of-school and that all government schools are well provided with teachers. ActionAid Association (AAA) has been able to achieve tremendous success in not only ensuring education for children but reducing instances of caste discrimination in schools across the Mewat region in Haryana and Rajasthan, and across Uttar Pradesh.   AAA’s work in Alwar and across Uttar Pradesh made significant gains in securing the rights of children. In Odisha, ActionAid  convinced the state government to re-think their policy of school closures. Across all the long-term projects AAA seeks to ensure, the school management committees are effective in their oversight of the respective government schools and students. In the time of COVID, virtual classes have no meaning for children of excluded communities. With the help of education volunteers based in the same village and following all COVID protocols, AAA has tried to keep children in touch with education and learning. In fact, AAA has recommended that education volunteers should be encouraged to do more such work by including this in the schedule of work under the MGNREGA. WHO has released a Schools & COVID 19 – Control and prevention guide that walks us through some of the most frequently asked questions. If schools reopen in future, the following should be monitored:
  • Effectiveness of symptoms-reporting, monitoring, rapid testing and tracing of suspected cases
  • The effects of policies and measures on educational objectives and learning outcomes
  • The effects of policies and measures on health and well-being of children, siblings, staff, parents and other family members
  • The trend in school dropouts after lifting the restrictions
  • The number of cases in children and staff in the school, and frequency of school-based outbreaks in the local administrative area and the country.
  • Assessment of impact of remote teaching on learning outcomes.
Based on what is learned from this monitoring, further modifications should be made to continue to provide children and staff with the safest environment possible. Today, we need more genuine public aid and government investments towards literacy provisions, enhanced teaching courses with extensive training programs and a unified teaching method involving conventional and technology-driven education which will make students familiar with the digital modern world and help them be eligible for the existing and future work cultures. India rigorously needs to grow its assets in the technological department to avoid literacy loss and maintain the positive returns of online schooling, enhancing the quality of its students and their efficacy. This can be the dawn before a brighter future, it all depends on when do we want to wake up? ActionAid Association has been helping in children from the families worst hit by the pandemic. You can make a contribution the donation fund for COVID Relief here.