Covid-19 pandemic hardly spared any sphere of life. It hit the economy hard and some sectors were even completely wiped out. But the education has been one of the biggest victims across the globe, more so in Kashmir where schools are shut for almost a year now. The educational institutions were closed on account of unprecedented lockdown in connection with the 5 August 2019 decisions. And when they reopened for a fortnight in March this year, covid-19 lockdown forced their closure again. Kashmir’s education sector has suffered for years and the covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the existing challenges.
Last week, United Nations secretary-general’s policy brief on the impact of Covid-19 on the world’s education system pointed to the fact that the closure of educational institutions impacted 94% of the world’s student population. In low and lower-middle income countries, the impact is said to be 99%. It also highlighted that despite the delivery of lessons by radio, TV and online, and efforts of teachers and parents, many students still do not have access to education. The report also highlighted how students with disabilities and those from marginalised communities and those from remote areas are at highest risk of being left behind.
In the Kashmir context, there are instances of many children left behind, without computer access, Internet connectivity, TV sets and even electricity. The non-restoration of the high-speed internet facility also does not augment well for the students of Kashmir.
In addition, the UN report highlights that the extended period of closure means students don’t have access to midday meals. Coupled with parental incomes under strain, there could be increase in drop-out rates.
While pandemic shows no signs of relenting, reopening schools anytime soon looks improbable for now.
In principle, the issue of reopening schools in a calibrated manner must be addressed mainly on epidemiological evidence. The government also needs to carry out an extensive assessment of the learning loss and well-thought-out plans to bridge the learning gap, and schemes to ensure there are no dropouts.
While the policymakers are already aware of severe impacts to the education process, and the losses to students, the alternative, of remote and online learning opportunities, should be ensured until the time direct classes are possible.