Like other sectors, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent curbs have badly hit the learning ability of schoolchildren in Chhattisgarh, where the percentage of students unable to recognise even alphabet letters in beginner-level classes has doubled in 2021 as compared to 2018, according to a report.
According to Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2021 for Chhattisgarh, in the pre-COVID-19 period (2014-2018) basic learning outcomes in the state had been improving, but the pandemic, which hit India in March 2020 and led to school closures, has caused a very serious ‘learning loss’.
Children’s foundational reading and arithmetic levels have dropped substantially between 2018 and 2021, especially in primary classes, it added.
The report is based on a survey of 45,992 children in the age category of 3-16 years in 33,432 households across 28 districts of Chhattisgarh.
The survey, which covered 1,647 schools, was conducted in the pandemic-hit year on special request of the state government, a senior official said.
As per the report, sharp drops were visible in children’s basic reading ability in all grades in 2021 as compared to levels in the period before COVID-19 outbreak.
“The proportion of children at beginner-level (unable to recognise even letters of Hindi and English alphabets) in classes II, III and VI has roughly doubled in 2021 since 2018. It increased from 19.5 per cent to 37.6 per cent for children in class II, from 10.4 per cent to 22.5 per cent in class III, and from 2.5 per cent to 4.8 per cent in class VI,” it said.
Current foundational reading level in class I-VII is lower than at any time in the last decade. The largest drops are visible in the lowest grades, especially among children in government schools, the report said.
The proportion of children who cannot even read letters is high in Naxal-hit and tribal-dominated Bastar, Bijapur and Dantewada districts.
“At the district-level, the proportion of children in class I-II in government schools who cannot read even letters is above 70 per cent in Bastar and Bijapur.
In Dantewada (South Bastar) and Bijapur, the proportion of children in class III-V in government schools who could read a class II level text is below 10 per cent,” the report said.
Similarly, decline in children’s foundational arithmetic ability was also witnessed over 2018 levels.
The proportion of children in class I-II in government schools who cannot recognise even single-digit numbers is above 60 per cent in Dantewada, Surajpur and Bijapur districts. In Bilaspur, Narayanpur, Dantewada, Bijapur and Mungeli, only about 10 per cent government school-going children in classes III to V could solve a subtraction problem, the report said.
However, despite the pandemic, enrollment rates in 2021 were higher for all age groups as compared to 2018.
“There is an increase in government school enrollment from 76.4% in 2018 to 82.9% in 2021 for children in the age group of 6-14 years,” the report said, adding this rise was seen across all age groups and genders.
The report also mentioned about ‘Padhai Tunhar Dwar’, an online education portal launched by the state government in April 2020 in view of suspension of physical classes due to the coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent lockdown.
“At the district level as well, awareness about the Padhai Tunhar Dwar portal was the highest among children in standards IX-XII in government schools. The districts with the lowest awareness of the portal, with less than 13% government schoolchildren responding that they knew about the portal, were Bijapur, Surguja and Surajpur,” the report said.
Overall, about a third of government schoolchildren attended school-facilitated community classes at least once before school reopened and attendance in Dhamtari, Kanker (North Bastar), Balod and Gaurela-Pendra-Marwahi districts was over 50 per cent, the survey found.
A senior education department official said the state government had asked ASER to conduct a survey to ascertain the status of schoolchildren in the state so that necessary remedial programmes could be introduced.
“ASER conducts surveys every year across the country. Due to the pandemic it could not have done it (in 2021). We specially requested the orgnisation for the survey as we wanted to know our status,” Principal Secretary (education) Alok Shukla told PTI.
“The survey provided us district-wise data which revealed about learning ability loss. It was not something which was unexpected. There will be learning loss when schools are closed. It has not happened just in Chhattisgarh,” he said.
Although, the data also indicates that a large number of children benefited from online classes of the government, Shukla added.
Speaking about the future course of action, Shukla said, “We have prepared a remedial programme jointly with ASER centre for students. But at present, we have to introduce it online only due to the pandemic and this platform is not so effective. But we hope sooner or later the pandemic will end and schools will resume (in-person classes) and we will bring students to the desired levels of learning.” Meanwhile, state president of the Private School Association, Rajiv Gupta, said lack of resources to attend online classes and negligence on part of the government are major factors for the learning loss among children during the pandemic.