Parents clamour for schools to re-open, say the 17-month long closure has ruined lives

A survey conducted by mostly university students in 15 states and Union Territories, released on Sept 6, finds online education a fiction and both parents and students desperate to see schools reopen

Parents clamour for schools to re-open, say the 17-month long closure has ruined lives

NH Web Desk

Schools should have been the last to close and the first to re-open. But it has been the exact opposite in India with schools shut down before others and re-opened for higher classes the last. The schools have remained closed for the past 17 months and the survey paints a grim picture of the ‘calamity’.

The emergency report presented the main findings of the School Children’s Online and Offline Learning (SCHOOL) survey.

The survey conducted among disadvantaged sections in both urban and rural areas discovered that only nine percent of the students had their own smartphones. In most households with smartphones, they were used by working adults. Poor connectivity and having no money to pay for data ( recharge) were some of the other bottlenecks. Most schools in rural areas were not sending online course material. In the urban areas some parents received videos and test papers on WhatsApp but could make little sense of them. Most such efforts seemed designed to claim that online education was being imparted.

The closure of schools not only deprived the children of education but also of a safe environment, a healthy social life and good nutrition, the report points out. Both reading and writing ability of the children had declined, the survey found, with very few second or third graders able to read a simple sentence in Hindi like ‘Jab se Corona mahamari faili hai, school bund hai’. Even in higher classes, almost half the students were unable to read the sentence correctly.

While a majority of the parents acknowledged that they had received free foodgrains, only eight percent admitted to have received any cash. The foodgrains were also distributed once in three months, defeating the objective of ensuring nutrition for the children. Distribution of both food and cash in most of the 15 states seemed haphazard.

While Door Darshan regularly broadcast programme for school students, only 8% of the students in urban areas and just one percent in the rural areas seemed aware of TV-based education. While some states like Rajasthan and Punjab initiated steps to ensure that teachers should visit the children’s home, as many as 51% of the respondents in the urban areas and 58% in rural areas had not met their teacher in the preceding one month.

With most students unable to avail of online education, unlike privileged students in private schools, and unable to concentrate, even among the disadvantaged sections, 24% in the urban areas and 14% of the children in rural areas were found to have fallen back on ‘private tuition’.

Depressed earning of parents has forced 26% of the respondent children to shift from private schools to government schools. The figure would have been higher but for the fact that private schools are refusing to issue Transfer Certificates (TC) until all dues, including fees for the duration of the closure when online education was claimed to have been offered, are cleared.

An overwhelming percentage of parents, 97% in the rural areas, want the schools to re-open immediately. The prolonged closure, they said, had not just robbed a few years of education but may actually have ruined their children’s lives. Many of them reported that the children had become more belligerent and aggressive, had developed an addiction for the smart phone and were far less disciplined than before.

(The SCHOOL survey was a joint effort of nearly 100 volunteers across the country. This report was prepared by the coordination team (Nirali Bakhla, Jean Drèze, Vipul Paikra, Reetika Khera) with generous help from many volunteers including Ankita Aggarwal, Srujana Bej, Ashlesh Biradar, Krishna Priya Choragudi, Hindolee Datta, Aashish Gupta, Pallavi Kumari, Jessica Pudussery, Arati Tawade, Kanika Sharma, Tejaswini Tabhane and Garima Topno.)

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Published: 06 Sep 2021, 3:58 PM