The lavish feast promised by the prime minister can wait, the government must first make sure that there is roti, chawal and sabzi on every sheet or plate.
COVID-19 was, and is, an unprecedented health disaster over which humanity or the world’s governments have little control. No government can be held responsible for the origin of the virus. Governments can be held responsible only for the adequacy or inadequacy of the response to the pandemic: its spread in the country in question, the number of infections and deaths, the vaccination program, and the help and support provided to citizens.
A mixed record
India is somewhere in the middle of the rankings. He hesitated, but recovered, as he contained the spread of the virus; the increase in the number of infections can be attributed to people’s lax social behavior; the number of deaths has been grossly underestimated; the “vaccination for all adults” program was painfully slow in the first months due to supply and distribution failures, but appears to have accelerated in the last three weeks; and, as for the aid to the poor, there was cruel negligence on the part of the government.
These consequences can be measured in terms of numbers or money. However, beyond the visible, there are consequences that were not visible to the naked eye. I will call the consequences the least noticed but greatest catastrophe.
I am referring to the education of our schoolchildren. Urban families with young children know that keeping children within the confines of the home was a challenge; rural families, after the first few months, simply let them roam the streets and fields of the town. All the families seized the fear of getting sick. They survived the first phase of fear without giving much thought to the absence of school for their children. But as the weeks turned into months and the months into a year, and the forced absence from school has extended into the second year, families panic.
Huge price paid
Your worst fears about your children’s education, or lack thereof, have proven to be true. There is data that shows that the country has paid a huge price for the forced closure of schools for 18 months.
The 2020 Wave 1 Annual State of Education (Rural) Report was released on February 1, 2021. It recalled the learning deficit of rural children (as reported in ASER 2018) and examined the impact of closure when schools they had been closed. After analyzing data related to parental education, smartphone availability, and access to textbooks and learning materials, the report concluded:
Overall, only about 35 percent of children reported receiving some learning material from their school; 72 percent of the children received learning material only through WhatsApp. The majority (55 percent) of children live in relatively poorer households that do not have a smartphone; your access to any learning materials being distributed would be limited; A World Bank study simulated learning loss and found that closing school for seven months will cause children to miss almost a year of learning in adjusted years of schooling; School closings will result in significant learning loss; These losses are likely to be much greater for children who are already disadvantaged, resulting in an even greater learning gap between the rich and the poor; All children will need some remediation, as schools open.
A subsequent study of 24 rural districts in Karnataka (believed to be one of the best states to provide school education) measured children’s fundamental skills: reading and numeracy. The findings are depressing:
There is a marked deterioration in fundamental skills between 2018 and 2020 among children in ETS V, 46.0% could read an ETS II level text in 2018, but this proportion dropped to 33.6% in 2020 (the pattern was the same in all ETS I to Std VIII); Similarly, among children in Std V, 34.5% were able to subtract and 20.5% were able to divide in 2018, but these proportions decreased to 32.1% and 12.1% in 2020 (the pattern was basically the same in Std I to Std VIII).
Another study of 1,362 households in 15 states, coordinated by Jean Dreze, found that only 8 percent of children in rural India were able to access education online, while at least 37 percent stopped studying. completely.
There has been much debate about the availability of hospital beds, oxygen, ventilators, medications, ambulances, cemetery / crematorium space, and vaccinations. Courts intervened to urge governments to do more. Many governments were alarmed and in fact did more. Unfortunately, however, there has been little debate across the country and less action on children’s learning losses and corrective measures.
Regardless of the immediate crisis, the government has launched the National Digital Architecture with the aim of “eradicating inequality in education.” The Prime Minister wants the education system to be “globally competitive and young people to be prepared for the future.” Sure, these are splendid goals and the intention is noble, but shouldn’t we first prepare children for reading and arithmetic?
The immediate need is remedial education. Teachers should be encouraged to work longer hours and children should be helped to overcome learning losses. No expense is too high to ensure that all children receive a complete school education.
The lavish banquet promised by the prime minister can wait, the government must first ensure that there are roti, chawal and sabzi on every sheet or plate.
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