Modi govt must implement parliamentary panel’s recommendations on education
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Education, Women, Children, Youth and Sports has categorically said that learning loss is acquiring a critical dimension
The world has been talking about a ‘lost generation’ for quite some time. International institutions like OECD and UNICEF have categorically asked governments across the globe not to delay opening of educational institutions and provided a roadmap how to bring students safely back to their classes.
In India’s context, a parliamentary panel had given its reports and recommendation a fortnight ago on August 6, 2021 in this regard, which seems to have failed to stir the Modi government. Decisions are being taken to open educational institutions, but the majority of the recommendations are ignored, while there is no initiative of proper planning. The Union government is talking big, but is clearly sluggish in action.
School education was deteriorating when COVID-19 struck the country. Dropouts had increased at secondary level which was 17 per cent for boys and 15.1 per cent for girls. It was the result of deteriorating economic conditions of the households in country. Additionally, universal and quality education was not available for the majority of students.
We needed this trend to be reversed at the end of 2019-20, when the country was put under lockdown on March 24, 2020. All educational institutions were shut down. Some 24 crore children missed their schools and the mid-day meals, resulting in further loss of learning and loss of health. The Centre for Science and Environment has estimated that 37.5 crore children might suffer weight and growth loss. Education of 32 crore students was disrupted during the pandemic.
Online classes were started across the country. The government claimed it to be a big step, and the creamy layer of the country supported it to such an extent that the people who are not connected with the ground reality fell into an illusion in believing government’s claim that 85 per cent of the students had access to online classes. However, the reality was otherwise. The Modi government’s claim was a lie which has been exposed by the parliamentary panel report. There was a great digital divide between the haves and have nots.
About 70 per cent children had no access to online education, the parliamentary panel revealed. Only 30 per cent had access, but then, the quality of education was so poor that it had to opine that online education is not ‘real education’.
62 per cent children in the country’s government schools suffered the most. 38 per cent of children in private schools were comparatively better off because of their better family backgrounds both in terms of education and wealth. However, only a fraction of them are in elite private schools who could take the benefit of online educations. The majority of students even in private schools could not access online classes.
A government sample survey in respect of Kendriya Vidyalayas show that only 5 and 0.5 per cent students used television and radio for online education. Only 11.58 per cent schools had internet facilities; only 33.8 per cent students, 29.6 per cent teachers, and 27.2 per cent parents found online education joyful. The panel revealed that only 23 per cent students had access to devices to connect to online classes.
One and a half year of closure of schools has prevented entry of 2.4 crore children in our education system in class one. The impact of this in our society can’t be imagined in all its dimensions including their future and the future of this country, in the backdrop in which, according to an estimate, about 8-10 crore children in primary schools of the country could not even read or count.
COVID-19 has changed the world of work. The emphasis is on digitalization and automation, and the future is only for higher skilled or educated workforce. What would the country do when these people with such a low level of education will be searching for jobs? They will be almost 10 per cent of the total workforce of the country.
The dropouts from secondary would add to it, apart from a large number of dropout college students of lower mental capability. Most of them would come from the deprived classes. Students were simply promoted to higher classes, many of them without exams, and many had passed exams on much reduced size of the syllabi, and even on the basis of leniency adopted in their evaluation.
Though education is a state subject, it does not justify the action of the Modi government to slash Union Budget for school education by Rs 5,000 crore, and for Anganwadis and related programmes by Rs 4,500 crore from the original allocations for the year 2020-21. Budget reduction last year failed both educations and nutritional needs of the children.
There is no valid logic to reduce the budget for midday meals which is even 13 per cent below the level of 2013-14, just before Modi government came to power. In the last seven years, the population has grown, and poverty has increased three times now, and the Modi government is claiming that it was providing foodgrains to 80 crore people. In this scenario, the budget cut is inexplicable.
Nevertheless, it continues to talk big. The Union government talks about ‘Nipun Bharat’ to address the learning deficit in primary schools. But it has effectively no value because schools were shut down. Education has become children’s fundamental right, but then what can Modi government achieve with 38 per cent budget cut in Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan meant for ‘education for all’?
Moreover, the Modi government recently celebrated the first anniversary of the new National Education Policy, during which schools were not open for a single day. Despite this, our Prime Minister has launched ten new schemes on the first anniversary, two relating to school education. As per the new policy, Anganwadis were to be merged with primary schools for integrated childhood centres, but the government is yet to prepare a roadmap to implement it.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Education, Women, Children, Youth and Sports has categorically said that learning loss is acquiring a critical dimension. It recommended plans to bridge the learning gap and plans for safe re-opening of schools which included vaccine programmes for all students, teacher, and allied staff, physical classes on alternate days and developing a blended mode of education.
Remedial steps are urgently required, the panel has said. Schools closures have substantially weakened the foundational knowledge of students, especially in mathematics, sciences and languages at school level. The learning loss is likely to impair the cognitive capabilities of students, and has a debilitating effect on vulnerable sections of the society like poor and rural students, marginalized sections of society and young women.
Their recommendation include getting out of school children back with incentives like study material, digital services, nutritional food, learning loss assessment of every student, intensive bridge courses, recorded online courses and opening online courses in all regional languages for each class, making available high-speed internet connectivity and at least one TV set, one desktop computer, large screens with projectors in all schools by government, leveraging private sector to provide digital devices to students belonging to economically weaker and marginalized sections, and a credible fair and transparent system for continuous assessment.
Modi government must heed to the recommendations and implement them fast. A simple decision to reopen school is not sufficient without remedial measures.
Views are personal