Citing that the hazards of not reopening schools after prolonged closure due to the pandemic are ‘too serious to be ignored’, the Committee report has recommended intensive bridge courses and accelerated learning programmes to make up for students’ learning loss; conducting assessments through regular tests with multiple-choice questions or quizzes and remedial measures taken through intense customised personal remedial classes to address the problem areas of each student.
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Education Times on the learning gaps caused by closure of schools due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Vinay P Sahasrabudhe, chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Education, Women & Children, Sports & Youth Affairs, and MP, Rajya Sabha, says, “We have suggested that the Department of School Education & Literacy should undertake a thorough review of all the issues including the learning gaps and the problems faced by the students, parents and teachers. Unless such studies are completed, it would be difficult to see where exactly the losses exist.”
He adds further, “Traditionally, education is about closer interaction between the teacher and the taught. Now that physical classroom teaching is not happening across the spectrum, it is a challenging situation for all stakeholders concerned to achieve the impact that can come through closer interaction. We know the limitations of technology, but even then, for a meaningful teaching-learning exercise, the teacher and student will have to come together. Now that they cannot do so, and keeping in view the existing lacunae, we have suggested that elaborate surveys need to be conducted of students in rural, urban, residential schools and tribal areas to compensate these gaps.”
Rational decision needed
He explains that on the basis of feedbacks gathered through interactions with teachers and parents, the Committee has concluded that students staying within the four walls of their homes, has brought about new sets of problems. “A student needs space, and in its absence, can face psychological issues, be it in terms of interpersonal relationships or a sense of suffocation that engulfs them; even the scope of peer learning gets impacted. The Committee has attracted the attention of the government, emphasising that while school opening is risky, keeping the schools closed is also not free from other kinds of risks. Hence a rational decision needs to be taken after weighing the options about the severity of the risks, and implemented meticulously,” he explains.
Sahasrabudhe further elaborates that the Committee has recommended that one urban school in every district and one rural school in every taluka should be developed with government support. “The government should develop the urban school into an ideal digital school, well equipped with all the technical gadgets along with the flexibility to function in a hybrid mode.”
Stressing at the need for physical in-person class, he says, “Learning is not just about reading books, in which case libraries could do the job, and schools would not have mattered. There should be a teacher who facilitates the learning and comprehension of difficult concepts, for which online classes are no match.” Lack of gadgets, connectivity issues and subjects requiring lab work etc need to be addressed, he adds, while calling for the need to “find out imaginative and creative solutions to deal with the crisis in these extraordinary times”.
Commenting on the Covid impact on students’ cognitive development, Dr Harish Shetty, psychiatrist, Dr LH Hiranandani Hospital, Powai, says that it is the result of a lack of movement which causes low concentration, desire and mood. “If the mood is maintained and the student does simple tasks at home such as exercise to bust stress, engages in brief interactions with friends in a safe environment and has parents who display mild fears but not severe anxiety, many of the challenges will be mitigated,” he adds.
Since learning loss is huge among the poor due to inadequate digital access, Dr Shetty suggests that children in such settings can maintain a strong peer interaction within the mohallas, which will help them catch up when schools reopen. On the subject of foundational knowledge, he says it can be reinforced in the first six months when schools start live. “Catastrophic attitude towards the lockdown need not be expressed.”
Go slow policy
He also suggests reopening schools on a pilot basis and the need for no-failure policy till class X. “Math and Science as well as languages need to be taught with their basics again. Actually, a gap year is a great idea for many students. Those schools who are obsessed by grades should go slow. Self-esteem of the school depends upon the collective mental health of the students and not only on the toppers,” he says.
Looking at the increasing incidence of school dropouts, child marriages and child labour which the report brings into focus, Dr Shetty explains that tracking dropouts should be done “as vigorously as we track Covid cases and a policy for getting back children to schools should be done on a priority basis”. Elite schools should also support poor schools in their vicinity with their resources, he adds.
Remedial measures such as creating a better digital infrastructure, promoting digital literacy, and convincing the marginalised sections about the importance of education in their child’s future should be implemented with immediate effect, says Shikha Banerjee, principal, Seth Anandram Jaipuria School, Kanpur, as she makes a reference to a recently released report by Unified District Information System for Education (UDISE) which reveals that 1/4th of tribals, 1/5th of Dalits quit class IX and X in 2019-20.
For the assessment mode in schools, Banerjee recommends a blend of offline and online methods depending upon the prevalent situation. “Online assessment tools are useful in facilitating customised assessment of students. Teachers can also look at the academic progress of students to arrive at an informed choice,” she adds.