Three Longs & Three Shorts

India must allow children to return to classrooms

When Covid-19 hit the world in the opening months of 2020, most countries shut their schools. But then by the opening months of 2021 most countries figured out a way to reopen their schools and get their children back where they belong – in the classroom. Unfortunately, this has not been the case in India where our kids continue to study from home and whilst our kids might be amongst the fortunate few to have laptops and wifi, children in the rest of India are not so fortunate. This article in the Indian Express quotes research done by the Azim Premji Foundation on the damage the extended school lockdown has done: “In January, the Azim Premji Foundation undertook a study of 16,067 primary class children in 1,137 schools spread over 44 districts in five states. The purpose of the study was to assess the “forgetting/regression” kind of learning loss among children with regards to language and math. Since these are what are referred to as foundational abilities, loss could imply serious consequences for the future. The results of this study showed that 92 per cent and 82 per cent children lost one or more of the abilities that constitute language and math learning respectively. Put simply, they had forgotten how to speak or write, add or multiply.”
What is perplexing is that the extended school lockdown in India comes in the face of two types of evidence which suggest that such a broad based lengthy lockdown is unwarranted: “Morbidity and mortality among children have been comparatively lower. As per a recent UK study, deaths are two per million and hospitalisation under severe conditions about 1 in 50,000. Studies carried out in the US, Ireland, Norway, Germany and other parts of the world have shown very low to negligible transmission of infection in, and due to, schools, particularly where the discipline of wearing masks, physical distancing and personal hygiene has been enforced even moderately. In fact, most countries have persisted with in-person learning. Only a handful have shut down schools. India is one of them.”
Education is a state subject in India and as many other countries have shown there is a way forward: “There is enough scientific evidence that in open spaces, the infection does not spread so effectively. Rural areas are full of such spaces where classes can be held. Timings and school schedules can be staggered to avoid crowding or mixing. Schools need not be held for the whole day. It would suffice even if classes are held for two hours covering critical subjects, and on alternate days. It will require the staff to work harder and the administration to have more detailed plans. Health departments will have to be more actively linked to schools and stay alert. Teachers and parents will have to be given high priority in vaccination by having vaccination camps at schools.”