Rethinking school classroom teaching

Surveys done on the impact of lockdown restrictions have indicated that the learning loss of children
Rethinking school classroom teaching

Surveys done on the impact of lockdown restrictions have indicated that the learning loss of children due to the closure of schools on account of the COVID-19 pandemic for the past 18 months is more severe than perceived. Findings of a recent survey confirm the apprehension of parents and educationists that the learning ability of many children of low-income households has been severely affected due to the closure of physical classes. The first round of School Children's Online and Offline Learning (SCHOOL) survey carried out in 15 states including Assam last month, has brought to light that in rural areas only 28% of children were studying regularly at the time of the survey, and 37% were not studying at all. While the government shouldn't ignore advisory by public health experts on the opening of schools, the survey findings call for the attention of the policymakers to also address the core issue of learning loss of school-going children. The fact that vaccination for children in India is going to take some time, a clear advisory from health experts will help state governments take a call on reopening all classrooms in schools. In Assam, offline classrooms have already been started for final year students of higher secondary, graduate and postgraduate courses. Declining daily positive cases has allowed the state government to unlock most sectors to allow daily to bounce back to a near pre-partial lockdown of the current second wave. The government is still apprehensive to open the classrooms in schools for the fear of the spread of infection. The SCHOOL survey report titled "Locked Out: Emergency report on School Education" has described the results of a simple reading test conducted during the survey as "alarming" and states that "nearly half of all children in the sample were unable to read more than a few words." Apart from Assam, the survey covered Bihar, Chandigarh, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal. Even though the sample size was limited to 1362 underprivileged households and children from Class I to VIII, the spread of the samples across these large states helped analysts to present a larger picture. The report prepared by economists Profs. Jean Drezeand Reetika Khera states that about half of the children currently enrolled in Grades 3-5 were unable to read more than a few words while in rural areas, 42% were unable to read a single word. Besides, most parents feel that their child's reading and writing abilities have gone down during the lockout. They are desperately waiting for schools to reopen. Indeed, for many of them, school education is the only hope that their children will have a better life than their own, adds the report. Among "offline children" (those who are not studying online), there is little evidence of regular studying. A large majority are either not studying at all, or just studying on their own at home from time to time. In rural areas, nearly half of the offline children were not studying at all at the time of the survey," reveals the survey which makes it imperative for school authorities to innovate new strategies to bridge the gap. Another key finding of the survey is that even among households with a smartphone, the proportion of children who are studying online regularly is just 31% in urban areas and 15% in rural areas sound alert against simplifying the remedy of suspension of offline classes to mere possession of a smartphone. When the offline classes are reopened, the inability to cope with the pace of learning with other classmates who are studying regularly during the pandemic will leave many students developing the feeling of exclusion. There will be cascading impact of widening gap among students due to loss of learning on account of suspension of physical classes and inability of underprivileged students to attend online classes. The school dropout will be on the rise and more numbers of out of school children will be vulnerable to child labour and trafficking. Schools running innovative bridge courses to help such students cope with the learning loss is critical to preventing dropout. These academic problems have no bureaucratic solutions. Intensive brainstorming sessions among school heads, teachers and other educationists can help authorities innovate solutions keeping in mind the findings of these surveys on learning loss. The roadmap for reopening school classrooms cannot be limited to preparing the Standard Operating Procedure from the perspective of health advisories on seating capacity, sanitisation, vaccination, and COVID-appropriate behaviours. It must include a comprehensive guideline to schools on what and how to teach the children who have suffered learning loss. Reopening the classrooms is critical to check learning loss, but post-COVID physical classes in schools having adequate space for children not studying at all in online mode, deserve special attention.

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Sentinel Assam