Covid-19 pandemic has taken heavy toll on learning abilities of kids: Report
A latest report by Pratham Foundation reveals that less than 30% of the students studying in class III can read text from the second standard.
KOLKATA: The two years of the Covid-19 pandemic, during which schools in West Bengal remained closed on most days, has taken a heavy toll on learning abilities of school going kids, says a latest report by Pratham Foundation.
The ‘Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) West Bengal 2021’ launched on Wednesday has revealed that less than 30% of the students studying in class III can read text from the second standard.
The situation was comparatively better in higher classes but still a matter of concern as less than 50% of class V students can read texts from class II and only around 70% of the students studying in class VIII can read text from class II level.
“This is the most recent estimate of the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has left on school kids. Field surveys could not be conducted in 2020 due to the pandemic. In 2021 field surveys for ASER could be done in three states – Karnataka, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal. The West Bengal report is the latest in the series,” said Rukmini Banerjee, CEO of Pratham Foundation.
‘The ASER West Bengal 2021’ was conducted among 11,189 students in 10,141 households located across 510 villages in 17 districts in the state in December 2021. While children aged between 3 and 16 years were surveyed, children aged between 5 and 16 years were assessed.
It was jointly conducted by Pratham Foundation and Liver Foundation. While the Karnataka report was launched before the second wave, the Chhattisgarh report was published right after the second wave.
The report also revealed that earlier, between 2014 and 2018, more than 70% students from class I could at least identify and read letters. Now, only 66% students can do it. Only around 53% students from class II can now read words. In 2018, more than 66% students could do that.
“Similar trends can also be noticed in the arithmetic skills of students where only about 30% of children in Class III can do subtraction (two digits with borrowing). This skill is expected from students of class II. This proportion increases in higher classes, but even in class VIII around 50% cannot do subtraction and over 60% cannot do division problems,” Rukmini Banerjee said.
“The pandemic has pushed back the reading and learning skills of our kids by some years. Children’s foundational reading and arithmetic levels have dropped substantially between 2018 and 2021, especially for primary classes. Before the grade level curriculum can be taught, providing the support needed to ensure that every child acquires basic skills is key to their ability to get back on track with their education,” said Abhijit Chowdhury of Liver Foundation.
The Mamata Banerjee-administration in West Bengal shut down schools for the first time in March 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. They were reopened in February 2021 with classes IX to XII but had to be shut soon due to the West Bengal assembly elections and the second wave of Covid-19 that hit thereafter. Classes IX – XII resumed again in November 2021 but had to be shut down again from January 3, 2022 due to the third surge.
On February 7, the West Bengal government launched ‘neighbourhood schools’ to educate students from pre-primary and primary classes.
During the field surveys, the researchers also found that at least one smart phone is available with a family member of two-third of the students going to government schools. This, however, doesn’t ensure that the kids have access to the smart phone as the phones are utilised by their fathers or mothers for work.
Not more than 25% of the school students received learning material or the teachers discussed their progress reports with the parents or they Covid-19 prevention guidelines were discussed.
“The ASER reports, which took off in 2005, have helped us to assess the actual progress of students. It serves as a bench mark of what our kids are learning in schools. The ASER reports portray a grim reality. We have to help those students who are lagging,” said Nobel laureate Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee, who launched the report while virtually attending the program.