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Approach:

  1. Intro – state the covid related educational disruptions.
  2. Pointwise mention what steps can be taken.
  3. Conclusion emphasizing on the need to reopen offline classes.

The Covid-19 pandemic has emerged as the biggest disruption in school education with medium and long-term effects. A UNESCO, UNICEF and WB report “The State of Global Education Crisis : A Path to Recovery” had estimated that in first 21 months schools were either partially or fully closed for an average 224 days. For India, this stands at 450 – 480 days. Given the Omicron surge globally, India may further delay full reopening of schools.

A few schools have become hybrid, i.e., partial closure. Given that Covid is likely to stay in the coming years, a serious relook is needed in reinvigorating school education. The closure or hybrid mode of learning are only temporary options, which must be dispensed with as it is contributing to ‘learning loss’. Phase-wise opening of physical classes is needed as studies point that there are negligible cases of students getting infected from schools & that children are at a lower risk of infection, given their vaccine immunisation.

Measures to be taken:

  • Reopening of schools does not translate into all children returning back. Every school must, therefore, ensure that no child has dropped from school, especially enrolment of girls, poor & other vulnerable sections. This is a key step in tackling pandemic-related enrolment inequities.
  • ‘learning recovery’ should be the priority to compensate ‘learning loss’. There is a need to assess learning level of children, and strategize learning recovery. Consolidation of curriculum & increasing teaching time are required. To ensure success of such efforts, school teachers need support & training to accommodate learning needs. The mentor-teacher initiative in Delhi government schools can be an example of its potentiality.
  • Innovative approaches and civil society participation need to be explored to restart school education.
  • To reassess the challenges in school education, subject experts must examine the recommendations of the National Education Policy 2020 in context of pandemic-induced challenges & operational strategies. They should be implemented in accelerated manner.
  • Currently, education expenditure is 3% of GDP, almost half of the average education spending of low & middle-income countries. Time is ripe for India to increase allocation substantially to raise to scale school education system.
  • Mental health issues have doubled in school-age children in the pandemic period. This calls for regular mental health services & counselling sessions for school children – ‘health promoting schools’.
  • 12 crore children in India depend on school meals for their nutritional needs. Any disruption in supply means burgeoning malnutrition and higher susceptibility to various infections. So, mid-day meals in schools must be started, with a mix of nutritional supplements.
  • Along with these, hygiene like handwashing & toilet facilities must be promoted.

The benefits of in-person education are far greater than its risk. Real learning cannot happen in solitary seclusion; classrooms provide that ambience for learning through socialisation. Realising the challenges posed by the pandemic, government along with other stakeholders need to take every action to bring school education back on track and develop a roadmap for learning recovery. It is our moral & social responsibility towards the future of this nation.

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