Going to school is not a luxury
Education has suffered enough in the pandemic. The first response to any new Covid-19 threat must not be shutting schools and colleges
Schools and colleges were shut again on Tuesday as part of the Delhi government’s “yellow alert” measures in response to rising Covid-19 infections in the Capital. As a result, students — whose education was first disrupted by prolonged closure due to the Covid-19 outbreak, and then soon after by a spike in pollution in the city — will be forced to remain at home and switch to online classes again, if at all they have access to digital devices.
This is an unwelcome step for multiple reasons. The pandemic has wreaked havoc on education — numerous surveys have shown that it has depressed learning outcomes, pushed pupils out of regular classes, and harmed their nutritional progress, mental health, and overall development. A Unicef survey in six Indian states found 80% students between 14 and 18 years reported lower levels of learning at home, as compared to in-person classes. This trend indicates that reversing the silent collapse of educational standards and learning outcomes should be an urgent priority for governments — not only to safeguard millions of children but also to ensure a robust future for the country. If there’s anything that the virus has taught policymakers over the past 24 months, it is to be targeted in mitigation efforts. Blunt force steps like shutting down cities, establishments, and institutions are being discarded the world over because of widespread economic and social disruptions. Even at the height of the current wave, most European countries opted not to close educational institutions. The graded action plan, under which the latest steps have been taken, was formulated in the shadow of the brutal second wave of Covid-19, fuelled by the Delta variant of the coronavirus. From what is known until now, the impact of Omicron is different, and is likely to be less severe on oxygen depletion, severity of illness, and hospitalisation.
This is to not say that we shouldn’t be cautious. By all means, enforce masking and distancing guidelines, dissuade large gatherings, and ensure schools and colleges are adequately ventilated and safe for children to step into. But instead of making the first response one that could hurt the future of millions, policymakers should look at expanding vaccinations and inoculating all available people without red tape and hurdles. Education has suffered enough in the pandemic. Going to school is a necessary function, and one of utmost importance. Let’s stop treating it like a luxury.