A new study by UNESCO has pointed out that educational disruption due to prolonged closure of schools across the globe will not only have alarming effects on learning loss but also poses threat to gender equality and overall health of the pupils.
Drawing on evidence from about 90 countries and in-depth data collected in local communities, the report shows that gender norms and expectations can affect the ability to participate in and benefit from remote learning.
The report has importantly pointed out that the pandemic is a timely reminder that schools are sites not only for learning, but also lifelines for girls and boys, an essential space for their health, well-being and protection.
Earlier this month, the government of J&K informed the Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh high court that it was proposing to shift from online to physical mode of education. There has been a long period of learning loss for the students of Jammu and Kashmir as compared to their counterparts in other parts of India or elsewhere. It has been a major setback in itself, affecting the physical and mental health of most students besides depriving them of vital skill development.
The covid-19 pandemic shuttered schools and forced students, who could, to study online at home. Some who could not afford smartphones missed it altogether even as the government resorted to radio or television programmes.
Nevertheless the school education department did well to keep the students engaged through virtual classes or at times, some teachers held classes under the open sky for the benefit of the students. However, as experts keep on repeating, it can never be a substitution for formal and structured schooling where students learn through teacher-student interactions.
Among the major concerns surrounding reopening of schools is possible transmission of the virus on campuses, with implications for vulnerable individuals in the students’ home. Here, the advocacy of the European Technical Advisory Group on schooling during Covid-19 — smaller class sizes, wider spaces between desks and staggered breaks at school — is worth considering.
In a related issue, the government has already issued guidelines, among others mandating maintaining of social distancing for students of 10th and 12th class for taking examinations in Jammu and Kashmir. The administration must resume physical classes before winter makes it impossible. A fortnight of schooling especially to first comers could prove fruitful and expose them to the school environment. For others it could reacquaint them with the atmosphere they have been missing for a very long period.