Covid-19 disrupted education on an unprecedented scale—more than 90% of the campuses remained locked out; school closures, stripped down curriculum and the struggle with the somehow cobbled online teaching platforms caused much harm to the learning, health and well-being of children.
By Shantanu Rooj
Education must be central of our response to Covid-19—we will need to build back better and faster to achieve an all-inclusive and equitable growth. Educational achievements are closely linked to our future earning potential, better health and societal participation—unfinished learning can impact future productivity and can impact economic productivity there by setting back national progress by several years. Without immediate action now, it can lead to worsening inequality and exploitation.
Covid-19 disrupted education on an unprecedented scale—more than 90% of the campuses remained locked out; school closures, stripped down curriculum and the struggle with the somehow cobbled online teaching platforms caused much harm to the learning, health and well-being of children. The result of this sudden move to online learning has been somewhere between disappointing and disastrous; as per a recent study, the pandemic induced learning loss in India (40-60%) was twice that of the developed nations (15-30%) with the disadvantaged having suffered the most. Some of the students, who dropped out of the system during the pandemic, will never be able to return to school again; yet for girls and women, this could have a compounding effect of widening gender gap and resultant risks of child abuse, forced marriage and other forms of exploitation.
The road to recovery isn’t going to be very smooth—it would be worthwhile to check how quickly and completely schools and colleges can recover from the pandemic. Teachers are exhausted and so are students. Relations between parents and authorities have frayed. Governments are tightening their belts too. Already stressed parents juggling their full-time professions alongside the child supervision and their education, are on the verge of breaking down. But the swift shift to remote learning by most of the schools with little or no experience of online teaching, demonstrated that our schools and colleges are capable of dramatic transformations.
Learning outcomes are a function of the societal background of every student—hence tailoring schooling to the specific needs of each child is essential to closing achievement gaps. Teachers now know that the class lecturing could be minimised by providing pre-recorded videos to the students in advance, thereby freeing up crucial time for interactive activities where they help students understand how to apply the acquired knowledge. Schools must move away from “assembly line manufacturing model” that treats every student with the same yardstick and move towards a “medical model”, where it is assumed from the outset that each learner will need personalised and varying kinds of assistance.
The closure of school campuses has highlighted the importance of classroom schooling to children’s physical, emotional and mental health. Well-coordinated efforts to help children claw back the learning loss would mark the first big opportunity towards a better system. Policymakers in many countries are betting that more one-on-one or small-group tutoring will help struggling students. Efforts must be made to make extended tutoring for struggling weaker students a part of the core education system. The lack of financial resources, infrastructure and network connectivity means that continuing education for the most vulnerable students will require innovation and partnerships to full-fill the basic human right to education—it will, hence, require the nurturing of alternative models of education. All of these efforts would need extensive resources and a full range of support, including financial, as part of the comprehensive response to Covid-19. Reforms in education, some of which can be effected by the flick-of-a-pen, no more look frightening. Schools would need to evolve from some of their spoon-feeding pedagogies and help students develop resilience to cope up with future shocks. Empirical evidence suggest that children who had developed the skill to learn independently could adjust faster to the remote learning model and suffered less during the pandemic. Evidently schools should be helping children build the ‘skill to learn’ in preparation for their professional careers, which is itself being disrupted forcing professionals to retrain frequently. This presents an opportunity to rethink education and recalibrate the inequality in our societies; including the digital divide that separated so many during the crisis. New partnerships between academia and the industry need to be forged to assure the inclusive and equitable provision of online education for all learners.
Rahm Emanuel, the former mayor of Chicago, once quipped: ‘Never let a serious crisis go to waste’. Covid-19 crisis has created an opportunity for India to reimagine and reboot education; for it is the most powerful tool for the most vulnerable to get out of their plight—poverty or a pandemic. Without action now, the misery and the inequality will worsen and distort the future of learning.
The author is founder & CEO, TeamLease EdTech