The renewed surge in covid19 cases in India has again put the clock back on country’s education system. The cautious and patchy reopening after almost 10 months in February this year has to be hastily called off as the caseload of infection is rising alarmingly. A catastrophe of sorts only seen during Spanish flu a century ago may revisit us if the chain of infection doesn’t break.
In contrast counties like Israel and a few others will see children in schools as normal. Reason, they have vaccinated over 50% of their population and are confidently stepping into such a decision.
The way situation is playing out in India, it could well end up spoiling yet another academic session for students. For many students, this also means end of dream of leading a campus life, which in itself is so much learning and a lifetime experience. “Third year of program is the time, when you really enjoy being in college and now my internship coming in last semester, that too might be online, what fun I will have?” questions an engineering student. Like this every student has questions on his mind. Life is not same.
Classroom learning, peer interaction, socialization, learning simulation, hands on learning, practicals, games, fun and all those energetic events—everything is gone out of life for students of India. The burgeoning class of sizeable ‘coaching institutes’ across the country, which continued to offer a small window and a sense of being in class sometimes stealthy and falsely, are also facing the prospect of closures as city after city lockdowns is becoming necessary.
Every category of students has been impacted in its own unique way. From toddlers to university scholars, education process is badly affected. It is bound to cost hugely to the society not only in terms of generational learning loss but as mental health challenge for many years to come.
In a country like India, where universal access to elementary education had just begun to consolidate with challenges of teacher shortage and moving to quality of education still colossal, the churn that the pandemic has involuntarily brought in, has taken country back by decades. India’s prowess in information technology and being almost a super power in this area, does little to lifting the country as a whole on online connectivity even though Smartphone penetration rate is rising rapidly.
The challenge of online education remains on two important fronts—one, on the first front of access by way of devices, connectivity, supporting infra and purchase power, and on the front of outcomes from online education in terms of engagement and actual learning.
So it would natural for the country to have a huge number of children who would have dropped out or didn’t learn much besides a huge deficit in school/college simulated learning and gaps in other life skill learning.
There is a need of a special task force that will document, conduct surveys, brainstorm, look for models to arrive at the kind of losses, students and education system suffered and recommend how best the gaps caused by pandemic induced closures, can be closed. There has to be a scientific way of arriving at models and bridge courses that can be fast tracked to cope up with the loss of learning after the pandemic has gone.