Nobel laureate Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee on Wednesday said the lockdown has impeded the basic learning of students and schools in West Bengal should reopen as soon as possible in view of the present COVID situation.
He also underscored the need to curtail the curriculum once the classes resume at the junior level and help children make up for the lost time.
The economist, who heads the Global Advisory Committee formed by the West Bengal government to combat the COVID situation, was taking part in a programme in which the Annual Status Report of Education (ASER) of December 2021 was launched.
The survey for it was carried out among 11,189 students in 17 districts of Bengal by Pratham Education Foundation and Liver Foundation, which jointly hosted the launch of the report launch here.
“All school campuses in Bengal should be opened as early as possible as the COVID-19 situation has improved and everyone is in its favour,” Banerjee said.
The state government, he said, has already started offline classes in campuses in a phased manner.
“The board (Global Advisory panel) has no doubt on the reopening of the schools … I think soon everything will be opened. We must also take note of the issue of vaccinating 15-18 year olds,” he added.
Banerjee, who is currently the Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said that given the situation teachers must not insist on completing the syllabus.
“Teaching should be done in a graded manner at this juncture. They must remember a student promoted to class seven possesses knowledge upto the fifth standard. To save the future of a generation despite COVID setbacks we must allow them to learn how much they can take now – simple, specific lessons,” he said.
Elaborating, he said when schools reopen students who are trailing should be immediately identified and teachers should start from where they can fathom, comprehend and relate after the long lockdown gap.
Once the students grasp the subject in three to four months’ time, they can then be introduced to newer topics, he said.
In normal times too a student who lags behind others in his class work finds it is difficult to catch up – more so if he is a first generation learner and cannot get help from his parents. This situation changes if he gets the attention of the teacher, who faces the dilemma of either giving attention to other students who have moved forward or those trailing.
COVID has aggravated this problem manifold, he said.
To a question on how TV and radio can be of help in facilitating education of children in the COVID situation, he said the media can be used extensively for imparting education if teaching is ensured at the right level in well designed audio visual programmes.
“On principle such media can be useful but that depends on the content,” he said.
Banerjee said ASAR has played a major role since 2005 in evaluating the methodology of basic education imparted to children. While students in higher classes have board exams to assess their academic progress, ASAR was the first to introduce the community based survey of basic learning in each district of the country.
According to the survey by the two Foundations 27.7 per cent of students in class three could read contents of class two level compared to 36.6 per cent in 2018 and 32.9 per cent in 2014.
The pandemic while not impacting the enrollment of students has severely dented their reading and learning, the study indicated.
The situation was more acute for students of classes one and two who could not go to the Anganwadi centres due to overcrowding, the Nobel laureate added.