The catastrophic second wave of the pandemic has snuffed out hundreds of thousands of lives. Millions will live with the health consequences of COVID and of other diseases. While the lockdown of the last year destroyed the livelihoods of tens of millions of people, the second wave will inflict more losses.
A silent and invisible emergency is also gathering strength and threatens to wipe out the future livelihoods of poor people in India and their access to a life of dignity and equality. This is the emergency in education. Already of poor quality, providing limited learning and basic skills to the majority of children and young people, the public education system in many parts of India, barring a few states, virtually shut its doors to these students for the greater part of the last year, and very likely will do so for the coming year. Hundreds of thousands of children, having lost one or both parents, and millions more affected by the loss of jobs and income, will need to make a painful choice between working to support themselves and their families and coming back to school.
During this period, private schools have continued to function by shifting to online education. Digital tools and apps, which help with tutoring, examination preparation and homework, have proliferated. The inequality in education has been exacerbated in every way. Children in public schools will lose two years of education, while those in the higher income private schools move ahead.
It is necessary to articulate practical steps to provide public education in a flexible but meaningful manner and advocate and organize for their implementation, taking into account the concrete conditions of the students and the likely course of the pandemic, which may return in different waves. Just as there have been “war rooms” to plan for and oversee the health emergency in states and districts that have done well, so too there must be a concerted effort to address the education emergency. Effectively, the majority of children in public schools must be considered “out of school”.
This effort will have two components
- Identify and network interested individuals, organizations and groups to form a loose coalition “Addressing the Education Emergency in India”. Coalition members will try to bring in interested individuals and organizations from their own networks into this coalition, on an ongoing basis. Encourage / request government departments (Education, Women and Child Welfare, Health and Family Welfare, Rural Development and Panchayati Raj) to also participate and support efforts.
- The coalition “Addressing Education Emergency” will collaborate on two main activities:
- Identify and share ideas, experiences and resources with one another so that relevant/innovative/practical ideas supporting student learning can spread across geographies, make these easily available to teachers continuously
- Create advocacy briefs to persuade governments and other key actors to take required actions - opening schools, safety measures, food/nutrition and other similar steps, curriculum and pedagogy, community involvement etc.
The key principle for the coalition is equity. The primary concern is the inadequate support to marginalized groups for the education of their children and measures that will address the inequity will be the primary concern of the coalition. This also means universal coverage essential so that no children drop out of the radar. Special focus on marginalized groups, girls, SC/ST children, religious and linguistic minorities, remote and inaccessible locations.
Other principles include flexibility, decentralized planning and implementation, public investment
- Create a broad coalition of interested actors - ‘Addressing Education Emergency” and a platform for interactions
- Activate 'Education war rooms' in state, district, block and cluster institutions - responsible for planning and supporting schools to provide learning opportunities for all students, involve local education institutions and local community based groups
- Planning for appropriate curriculum - resource preparation, teacher preparation, teacher-learner interactions, ongoing teacher and school support
- Provisioning universal digital infrastructure – devices and connectivity. Providing resources to students / communities on a planned and regular basis
- Decentralized decision-making on opening schools, within guidelines by panchayats, schools and SMCs, so that schools account for local contexts, needs and challenges and can be open to the maximum extent possible.
- School level preparation - guidelines for physical distancing, hygiene and infection control. Planning seating / distancing, sanitation / washing / soap / sanitizers, Thermal scanners. Mid-day meals and additional nutritional support - providing nutritious food, supplements (vitamins, iron, de-worming). Proactive heath check-ups and priority vaccination for teachers, school staff and children.
- Covid care - access to testing facilities. Quarantining, containment and access to health facilities
- Identifying appropriate curricular resources, encouraging teachers to create local versions and share with others, making it easily available on resource repositories. Emphasize socio-emotional development, resilience, the skills to learn continuously, than syllabus as usual.
- Teacher preparation - dynamic view of syllabus / content, prioritisation, revisions to pedagogy, accessing / preparing / revising relevant content. Digital and media literacy, to be able to conduct online teaching where feasible/meaningful. Periodic experience sharing webinars within and across states to support adaptation elsewhere
- Supporting structured learning for students – in school and in community. Providing learning materials structured interactions, local small student groups - can be mixed age groups. Involve local volunteers. Staggering classes, regrouping into smaller cohorts, interactions in the community. Parental/ community support. See schools as ‘front-line’ community education institutions - alert communities through on-going messaging from teachers/schools on safe and risky behaviours. Assessment only for supporting learning.
- Public investment - school readiness, water and sanitation facilities in all schools, nutritious free breakfast and mid-day meals, student support for devices, stationery, for teacher preparation
- media campaigns (print, social media, radio and TV) to continuously share information of strategies to schools and teachers and communities, to optimize possibilities
For more information, write to education [at] itforchange [dot] net