A ‘generational catastrophe’ | HT Editorial
The UN’s warning is timely. Pay heed to educationUpdated: Aug 05, 2020 19:15 IST
On August 4, the United Nations (UN) released the secretary-general’s policy brief on the impact of Covid-19 on the world’s education system. The policy brief points to the fact that the closure of schools and other learning spaces have impacted 94% of the world’s student population (up to 99% in low and lower-middle income countries). It suggests that despite the delivery of lessons by radio, TV and online, and efforts of teachers and parents, many students still do not have access to education. It highlights how learners with disabilities, those from marginalised communities, displaced and refugee students, and those in remote areas are at highest risk of being left behind. And it warns that the knock-on effects on child nutrition, child marriage and gender equality could be enormous. The cumulative impact of all these on children may lead to a “generational catastrophe” that could waste human potential, undermine decades of progress, and exacerbate entrenched inequalities. This is not good news for any nation, more so for those in the low and lower-middle income segments such as India. According to Unesco, nearly 321 million Indian children have been at home since March-end. There is no clarity on when schools will reopen.
In the last few decades, especially since the enactment of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, India has seen a surge in school enrolments and infrastructure development in the primary and secondary segments. But the learning outcomes have not kept pace. The pandemic has now exacerbated this existing challenge. In addition, the extended period of closure means students don’t have access to midday meals; and with parental incomes under strain, there could be a spike in drop-out rates, especially among girls.
While the focus must be now be ensuring the safety of students, teachers and staff, and putting in place protocols for school reopening, there has to be an extensive assessment of the learning loss and well-thought-out plans to bridge the learning gap, and schemes to retain students. This entails tweaking the syllabus and changing pedagogy. This forced break must also be used to align the sector to the National Education Policy (NEP), which was released last week, especially to its foundational learning goals. Last but not least, governments will have to arrange for funds required for the sector. This will be a challenge post-Covid-19, but starving the education sector of finances will be irresponsible, for it is crucial to meeting India’s development goals and creating an inclusive society.