Classrooms have finally come to life as pupils return to schools and playgrounds. The challenges were mounting with every day spent by the students outside the institutions even though teachers and schools tried to keep the connection through online means. Now the teachers and institutions are now confronted with a formidable challenge. The prolonged closure of school due to the Covid-19 pandemic and restrictions post August 5 2019 have interrupted children’s learning and also eaten away at their foundational skills and abilities. This is not just apprehension but some field surveys in few states like Karnataka, West Bengal and Chhattisgarh by private agencies show alarming weakening in pupils’ abilities. Time lost cannot be regained but teachers are left with extraordinary task to make good as regards learning deficits in reading, writing and comprehension in primary school. There are apprehensions that these learning losses may stunt education at higher levels. The government of India is also holding the “foundational learning study” on interactive, face-to-face assessments.
Concerns about the quality of education persisted.
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the education system has been severely detrimental and it stands proven as per the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) for rural India.
The survey shows that the percentage of children enrolled in government schools rose from 64.3% in 2018 to 65.8% in 2020, dramatically going up to 70.3% in 2021.
On the contrary, the enrolment rate in private schools declined from 28.8% in 2020 to 24.4% in the current year as per the survey which was conducted over the telephone and covering 76,706 households in 17,184 villages.
This confirms that households have been severely affected by the economic depression caused by the pandemic, reducing funds earmarked for children’s education.
The percentage of rural children who were not enrolled in school doubled during the pandemic, with Government schools seeing an increase in enrolment at the expense of private schools, according to the report. Over a third of children enrolled in Classes 1 and 2 have never attended school in person until recently.
The most disturbing aspect of the report is that the young students, those just entering the formal education stream, have been left most vulnerable. One-third in Class I and Class II have never attended an in-person class.
The immediate short-term step is to get on a back-to-basics revision programme across schools and classes. All stakeholders must come together to minimize both loss of learning and the emotional distress that comes from being left behind.