A tweet on a ‘muted’ National Children Day this year from Prof Venita Kaul, Professor Emeritus Education, Ambedkar University Delhi and one of the acclaimed experts on early care and education and policy in India, who found lack of public events or even wishes on this day as unusual; sums it all up—children of this country are forgotten. She wrote, “Has Children’s day become history now? Was it not supposed to be celebrated today on Nov 14? What happened? Not a word anywhere? Can understand the hesitation to celebrate Nehru’s birthday but what have little children done to deserve this? Can someone help me understand?”
Year 2020 has been unusually harsh on children due to direct and side effects of Covid-19 pandemic. And, the impact will be borne by them for a lifetime! Perhaps, of the all generations, children will incur more costs of this pandemic both in terms of learning loss as well as future economic prospects.
School closures due to COVID-19 affected 247 million students in our country. The transit to online or distance education has not only amplified digital divide but as UNICEF says inequalities among young people as well. Survey after survey is pointing to mounting evidence that a vast majority of country’s 30 crore young population has remained cut off from academic activities and learning. It is not only absence of learning/schooling but potentially a reversal of all big effort at universalization of education that is more worrying.
In India, it is feared that 25% of children wouldn’t return to schools. Prior to pandemic, there about 32 million children were estimated to be out of school. If the projected numbers add up, it would be a disastrous situation for nation. Most of the gains of yester decades would be undone and it will damage country’s economic prospects in coming decades.
As per UNICEF, approximately 70 per cent of mental health services for children and adolescents are disrupted. Because most mental health conditions develop during adolescence, young people especially are at risk. The impacts of disrupted services are compounded by young people missing out on peer support and some of the biggest moments of their lives due to school closures, cancelled events or postponed exams.
Closing schools exposes children to multiple risks. The longer schools are closed, the more children suffer from extensive learning losses with longterm negative impacts, including future income and health. Depending on their age, gender, and disability or socio-economic status many children (especially adolescents) do not return to school after long closures and many more are expected to suffer permanent losses to their learning. In addition, children rely on schools for nutrition, psychosocial support and health services.
Again the number of children living in monetary poor households due to COVID-19 has gone up exponentially and child labor as well as child abuse is on rise. Girls in particular are biggest victims of this as trafficking and child marriages are reportedly also on increase. Malnutrition, disruption to vaccination and healthcare are some of the other challenges children population is facing today. In terms of Covid infection about 11% of children worldwide have been impacted and is continuing.
While WASH has always been an issue in schools and in communities, Covid pandemic has made the challenge more complex.
In backdrop of the plethora of disruptions or simply a disruption in their lives, Children Day, should have been a special occasion—more festive, more visible, more engaging and importantly more reassuring. But, our governments of late have stopped looking any deeper at critical issues of education. Turning important occasions like Education Day or Children Day into media and public events offer critical windows to raise public awareness and bring focus on challenges. It would be better for education establishment to educate itself so that children don’t become invisible and voiceless.