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Education must be treated as a child’s basic right while drafting schooling policies in these troubled times

Even as we celebrate 75th Independence Day, it is imperative to draw up plans to ensure that proper education is imparted at every level, offline and online, and for every boy and girl, rich or poor

Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: Social Media)
Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: Social Media)

Dr Gyan Pathak

Barring a few schools that have reopened, most of them lie deserted today due to the pandemic. The liveliness and laughter of the innocent souls, the children, our future, are locked away in their homes even as the country celebrates the 75th Independence Day on Sunday, and then the whole year as the 75th year of Independence.

The unprecedented disruption in school education in India, which has caused a great loss of learning and even essential mental ability for children, began with the announcement of general lockdown of the country on March 24, 2020, after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. Schools were shut down alongwith everything else, barring emergency services.

The unlocking of the country began from June 1, 2020, in a phased manner, but schools remained shut. The first and the second wave of the pandemic passed on, and the third wave is predicted to strike soon even as efforts were being made to reopen schools in some places. Some states have opened them for higher classes, and some were planning to open them later this month or early next, but the fear of the disease has put a brake on their planning. Maharashtra, among other states, has made a U-turn on plans to reopen schools in the present scenario.

On the eve of 75th year of Independence, school education in India is thus under the shadow of great uncertainty. To open or not to open is the question. Bringing students back to schools safely is a challenging task. We need to overhaul the whole educations system if we want to save our children, to save our future.

There has been a limited shift from offline classes to online. It had theoretically given rise to hope, but has been proving problematic practically. The digital divide between the rich and the poor, between the urban and the rural, between the educated and the illiterate, are too wide to be bridged.

COVID-19 is not going away anywhere in the near future, and therefore we need to redesign our school education in the light of experience gained during the one and half year of the pandemic. We had been implementing the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 under which a child between the age of 6-14 years have fundamental right to have free education, but the outbreak of the pandemic and subsequent shutting down of schools have shattered our dreams. Nevertheless, we will have to do something, to protect the fundamental right to education of children. A wise online and offline mix will have to be planned urgently.

The dream of universal education in the country was yet to be fulfilled when the pandemic struck the country last year. There was a big gap between the education levels of education in private and public schools of the country. There was a perception that students from deprived families in government schools were getting low quality of education.

Prior to 1976, education was a state subject, but thereafter has been kept under concurrent subject, putting formal responsibility on both the Centre and the states for funding and administration of education.

We will have to achieve universal education for all for the nation to progress and prosper.

India has remarkable achievement in the field of education since independence. In 1951, the literacy rate was only 18 per cent, 27 per cent male and 9 per cent female, which increased to 41 per cent, 53 per cent, and 29 per cent by 1981, and 73 per cent, 81 per cent and 65 per cent by 2011.

However, the pandemic has threatened our achievements. Millions of students may not come back to schools at all when they get reopened, and a large number of them will be girls. India will need to tackle this problem urgently.

Households are left with little money due to the pandemic and the containment measures, and therefore, many students will leave private schools for government ones. The crisis has many dimensions.

The curriculums of school education will have to be tweaked to accommodate both offline and online education and examination systems, general hygiene and measures of safety from diseases and infections, development of civic sense among the students, etc.

Teachers will have to be given special training so that they can cope with the online and offline requirements of education along with bridging the gaps and learning losses among the students during the closure of schools, and taking care of student’s behaviour and mental health.

While we celebrate the 75th Independence Day, and the year afterwards, we must do something to protect the fundamental right of children to education, at every level, from home to school, and for every boy and girl. India needs to plan education as a child’s right, not merely as a parent’s or guardian’s duty.

School education in the country is at a crossroad right now, and it is imperative for the government to take the right decisions.

(IPA Service)

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