Dr Saswati Paik

Questioning the impact of the pandemic on children’s education and gender equality leading to generational catastrophe in India amid the pandemic and remembering Chachaji’s statement … “The children of today will make the India of tomorrow. The way we bring them up will determine the future of the country”.

Jamlo Makdam, 12-year-old child labor, reportedly died after walking 150 km from her workplace in Bhupalpally district of Telangana to her native village in Bijapur district of neighboring Chhattisgarh during the lockdown period of the Covid pandemic.

While people started talking about the inhuman treatment of the migrant laborers, I was questioning myself, why was Jamlo working in chilly fields, and why was she not in school? Why do such children remain unnoticed before such a tragedy? Jamlo probably did not get a chance to go to school as many others also do not get.

A pandemic has changed our lives in many ways. Today on Children’s Day, I remember Jamlo and many such children questioning how are our children doing? Are they all safe? Numerous children are ever excluded from the formal schooling system, and another set of children are silently excluded from the schools because of circumstances. The economic crisis triggered by the pandemic has created more anxiety for our future generation.

Since March 2020, the schools are no more running their classes on the premises due to the pandemic. By mid of April, almost 1.58 billion children and youth, from pre-primary to higher education, in 200 countries worldwide were affected by the pandemic in various ways. The recent report published by the United Nations (UN) provided a note of caution, which states, “Preventing a learning crisis from becoming a generational catastrophe requires urgent action from all” (United Nations, 2020).

The closure of the educational institutions especially the schools will hinder the provision of essential services to children and communities, including access to nutritious food. The limited opportunities in the labor market will badly affect employment and will increase the risks of violence against women and girls.

A prolonged academic detachment may have multiple consequences on children, such as drastic dropout from schools, increased child labor, child marriage, child trafficking, abuse, and addiction to substances. It will have a terrible impact on the girls who are already deprived of decent educational opportunities for many reasons, including gender-specific norms and practices existing in society.

Before the outbreak of the worldwide pandemic, a learning crisis among children was identified by the World Bank; around 53 percent of children in low- and middle-income countries were found to be living in “Learning Poverty.” Numerous children in India are at risk. Who are they? Where are they?

There are mainly three types of extremely vulnerable children: (i) children never enrolled in any school, (ii) children formally enrolled in school but extremely irregular in school due to various socio-economic reasons, (iii) school dropout due to various reasons. The children who are never enrolled or withdrawn from the schools before even completing elementary education either belong to the families having livelihood issues or belong to families having orthodox belief systems. Often girl children remain more vulnerable rather than boys.

Two prominent questions emerge here: (i) Do we provide enough support in our formal school system so that children aspire for education? (ii) Do we pay enough attention to girls’ education?

According to the data available from U-DISE, there are 1,795,240 schools in India. Out of all schools, 83% provide primary education facilities (grade I to V) whereas around 50% provide education till 8th grade. There are only 28% schools that provide school education till 10th grade and only 21% provide school education till 12th grade. This data indicates that majority of our children do not have access to education beyond 8th grade.

More than 70% schools in India are either fully managed by the government or any department under the government or by autonomous bodies created under the central government or established by state governments in order to meet a specified purpose. On the other hand, around 50000 schools are residential and run by various departments of government of India including Tribal Welfare Department and Social Welfare Department. In many such residential schools, the residential facility is provided with a bare minimum need of the children. What may happen to those children studying in rural areas having poor facilities in schools and rare access to any formal education during this prolonged school closure?

A study on informal worksites in seven Indian cities, revealed that 80% of the accompanying migrant children did not have access to education, 30% never enrolled in schools and 90% did not access ICDS services. Almost all children were found to be living in hazardous and unhygienic conditions (Unni, 2020). There are two types of children who belong to migrant labourers’ families. One set of children are left behind in the villages by parents who undertake employment elsewhere and another set migrates with their parents who are often engaged in the construction sector, brick kilns and agricultural sectors. The job losses encountered by the migrant workers in the current pandemic will worsen the plight of these children. What is happening to these children now?

Majority of girl children in rural India go to the government schools. Girls drop out from schools because of several reasons including family and social norms. However, many reasons lie within the schools only such as lack of transport facility, lack of functional toilets in schools and absence of female teachers in schools.

A report by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) published in 2018 stated that 39.4% of girls of 15-18 years across India drop out of education. Most of the girls who drop out, do not end up earning; they are forced to perform household chores or even resort to begging, the report claims. What may happen to the girl children during this prolonged school closure? Forget about their education, are they keeping well in terms of physical and mental health? Are they safe? The scenario is presently blurred but alarming which may lead to a generational catastrophe.

There is a famous proverb that says, “If you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a nation.” If we relook at the education of women in India, we will probably agree that even after 73 years of Independence, we are far from reaching a level of satisfaction in women’s education. I wish to remember the face of children like Jamlo on this Children’s Day, who deserve a better life with proper facilities of health, nutrition, and education to contribute to nation-building for the future.

References:

  • Government of India (2018). U-DISE Flash Statistics, 2016-17. Ministry of Human Resource Development.  
  • udiseplus.gov.in
  • United Nations (2020). Policy Brief: Education during COVID-19 and beyond.
  • Unni, Jeeson C (2020). Social Effects of Covid-19 Pandemic on Children in India. Indian Journal of Practical Pediatrics. 2020;22(2): 214.
  • World Bank (2020). COVID-19 Could Lead to Permanent Loss in Learning and Trillions of Dollars in Lost Earnings. Press Release. Worldbank.org
Learning Crisis leading to a Generational Catastrophe amid the Coronavirus Pandemic Impact on Children's Education and Gender Equality

Above are the event excerpts of the special talk by Dr Saswati Paik on Learning Crisis leading to a Generational Catastrophe amid the COVID-19 Pandemic: Impact on Children’s Education and Gender Equality. The other participants in the webinar were: Dr Indu Prakash Singh, Facilitator, CityMakers Mission International; Dr Govind Kelkar, Executive Director, GenDev Centre for Research and Innovation, Gurugram.

YouTube Video for Learning Crisis leading to a Generational Catastrophe amid the COVID-19 Pandemic: Impact on Children’s Education and Gender Equality

Picture Courtesy: Gulte.com