Reopening of Schools amid COVID-19: Challenges and the Way Forward for Children’s Education

Due to the Covid-19, many things came to halt, but education was one particular sector that never resumed to normal, where its school or colleges. After a significant time, when the cases are in control and the nations have achieved a substantial level of vaccinations, most of us believe that we should resume education as it should be on a physical basis, to put more light upon the same topic, Center for ICT for Development (CICTD), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi, Hosted a panel discussion under #WebPolicyTalk series, The State of Education – #EducationDialogue on Reopening of Schools amid COVID-19: Challenges and the Way Forward for Children’s Education.

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The panel was chaired by Prof Sachidanand Sinha, Professor, Centre for the Study of Regional Development, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. The fellow panelists were Piyush Prakash, Senior Associate, Education Vertical, NITI Aayog, Government of India, Manushi Yadav, Head, Strategic Partnerships, Pratham Education Foundation, Suchetha Bhat, CEO, Dream a Dream, Bengaluru and lastly Meeta Sengupta, Founder, Centre for Education Strategy, New Delhi, Fellow, Salzburg Global Seminar.

Education in Covid

The discussion was started by the chair, he brought light to the topic that how the schools and institutes are open, and many are not ready to open now. Rather, he explained how online education affected people in different areas like the distant impact of it on the people belonging to rural and urban areas is quite different. Not only this, but due to the reduction in income and growing expenses of private education, it has made us see the enrolment rates in private schools are much less compared to the normal.  

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The discussion was forward taken by Manushi Yadav, she started her talk with her experience working with the Pratham foundation and achieving a goal of accessible quality education for all. She highlighted how online education has nearly doubled the no of children who have lower reading capabilities than their grade, this disparity is created because of this online education. She brings how the notion of value and excitement in the children, which should be inherited by the school has completely been missing.

She believed that the situation is very dynamic and changing so we should opt for options that are flexible too, we should make programs that could help us comport children in online education itself, like a need assessment for vulnerable groups, proper attendance, children’s programs to gain interest. She believed that we should focus more on the basic aspects of educating rather than advancing in the primary, because as seen the basics are missing and one cannot have a sturdy base when the basics are not clear. She suggests forgetting the academic timetable that is being made and focusing on holistic education based on the pace of children and their learning. 

Equity in the classroom

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 How should the change happen?

The discussion was carried forward by Meeta Sengupta, she believed that we are making a bridge in making the children educated and establishing their careers. She thinks we should focus on a large variety of social essentials of children to make them responsible citizens in society and learn from our failures in the past.

She not only talked about the difficulties of the children, but also the teachers, lack of online methods of teaching, lack of proper teaching to engage children online, and especially the lack of online-based pedagogy in teachers, created a difference between the students and teachers. Whenever we should get back to the normal way of education, we should focus on filling the learning gap that was developed. Their some changes he recommends for the current to initiate the change like to start developing ICT efficiently and effetely, we should also promote equity in the classroom, concentrate on socializing and engagement.

Definition of success

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Suchetha Bhat continued the discussion by highlighting the impact on the children of large-scale migration and especially for children belonging to vulnerable communities like girl children. This helps to highlight how difficult it is for the children. She believed about 100 days should be devoted to them stabilizing their social and emotional challenge while in the period in the transition, rather than the stress of educating them and finishing the syllabus. She believes to bring out the change we might change our definition of success and achievement, which is fundamentally wrong and should be opted out of.

Collaborative decision-making

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The chair Prof Sachidanand Sinha enlightened the discussion by his perspectives on where we reached this and why is the system still the same. Later he acknowledged the discussion points brought about by the former discussant, he brought the essential point of engagement of the community and parents in the school and education of children. He believes that the decision-making should be based on collaboration with all, not it should be centralized but based on different communities and decentralized structure should be brought out. He brought out the issue of understanding quality vs quantity.

He brought his experiences from his fieldwork in various rural areas and his childhood observations, he suggests not only decentralizing the structure but also promoting social equity and social education. It is not he is not giving importance to educating via ICT and using the system, but we should use this system and its advantages for the specific classes and children. At last of his arguments, but he believed that these topics and these issues should be brought and discussed by the society and the communities, the main stakeholders, these issues might be dealt with with a great local significance and a certain degree of reliability.

Question- Answer

The first question was “Should be digital pedagogy provided for the teacher first and then the students, how should the state help implement these” Meeta Sengupta answering the question puts strain on a collaboration between the teacher and students to learn them. She talks about learning with each other, she talks about the teacher collaborating, to take out their diverse ways in digital pedagogy, and then they could communicate about this with fellow teachers and help the community.

Prof. Sinha pointed out his observations with the recent batch of students who never meet in real life and have never been to a college campus. He brings his observations in online classes and the lack of support by the institution which has caused a great disturbance towards the teaching process. He thinks these issues were at a macro level, but at a micro level at a level of every household, it could be so difficult for the parents who have multiple children. He brought light to the issue of pressure on the teacher and the ignorance of it by the authorities, he believes the change that is necessary bringing keep children and teachers at the center rather than anything else.  

Sucheta Bhat answered the question on the change in education in the informal sector and different platforms of education like EdTech start-ups, she believes that these should be regulated and keep them in check about their content and limit their influence on children. She talked about the level of maturity that children must learn in this pandemic, and the assessment of learning is such narrow and we should change about this narrow statement.  

Manishi answered the question of opening the school might result in danger, as the child vaccination has not even started. She pointed that the discrimination in the economic activities being prioritized in opening and educational institutions are not just a bias in our mind or based on the biases of our mindset of importance which needs to be changed. Then she brings out some important observations about teaching and educating differently and innovatively, and how that has led to a complete change in developing the fundamentals of educating.  

Meeta Sengupta presented her perspective in various things that were discussed in the talk, she brought out a couple of policy recommendations she wanted to see in the future, like building in peer learning circles among the students for various subjects, not only for essentials like examinations and notes but also for some of the debates which could be highly effective, second is restructuring the infrastructure for online education and various other along with them. 

Acknowledgment: Ayush Aggarwal is a research intern at IMPRI.

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