Rajesh Tandon

” I have not been able to sing with my friends for so long..”Tripti (14 yrs) from Jharkhand

“We have not met so many youngsters like me for two years; what fun to be together’….Naresh (16 yrs) from Anantpur (AP)

“It did not matter if we do not know each other’s mother-tongue, but we can be together comfortably, given a chance..”… Upasna (15 yrs) from Bhubaneshwar

Over the past week, 31 adolescent boys and girls participated in a ‘festival of learning’ called Antargoonj organized by Martha Farrell Foundation and PRIA. Coming from Bhubaneshwar, Gurugram & Panipat, Ranchi and Anantpur, they have all participated in an adolescent leadership program ‘Kadam Badhate Chalo”(KBC…Keep Taking Steps Forward).

Having learnt, worked and played together for 3 days, the youth wrote and sang a song at the 5th Martha Farrell award ceremony held on November 20, with lyrics saying..”Humne Apne ko Pahchana Hai”(we have found ourselves)!

These words, actions and music of the adolescents from different regions of India meant so much to them as they came together for the first time after nearly two years of isolation and lockdown due to the pandemic. They did not know each other’s language, they had hardly known about locations from where they gathered together, but they understood each other so well and developed such friendship in three days that they all had tears in their eyes when they were returning home.

This is the power of social interaction, and learning was embedded within, through soft facilitation.

It is such learning opportunities that youth in India and around the world have been missing for the past 18 months. Various studies have been highlighting the impacts of closure of educational institutions on the learning, development and mental health of young people.

A recent UNICEF Report showed that repeated and continuous school closures had severely affected learning for millions of students in South Asia. Nearly 80% of students in 14-18 years age reported loss of learning due to school closure in India. Online learning during these 18 months did not compensate adequately for a large section of youth. Nearly 42% of children in 6-13 year age group in India reported not using any remote learning during the school closure. According to the latest World Bank report, learning poverty is now affecting nearly 70% of children in low and middle income countries around the world.

The repeated and extended closure of physical, face-to-face learning opportunities for youth have significantly impacted their learning. Bangladesh and India have had longest periods of school closure, nearly 70+ weeks (varying across states). Report of SCHOOL survey in India two months ago showed that only about 24% of urban and 8% of rural students were studying online regularly. Recently released ASER 2021 data indicate severe drop in school enrolment, and access to online learning only to mere 10% of students in Bihar.

Online learning opportunities for girls have been further restricted due to a range of impediments at home…greater responsibility in home-making tasks, denial of online devices, and ‘snooping’ into their academic tasks and platforms due to ‘mistrust’. Restrictions further tightened on their physical movement outside the home denied them learning opportunities in tuition schools, informally available nearby.

The recently concluded COP26 conference in Glasgow reiterated earlier conclusions that loss and damage due to ongoing climate impacts continue to affect hitherto marginalized communities maximally in South Asia. Climate-induced impacts…draughts, floods, rains, cyclones, forest fires, etc….are likely to intensify in the coming period and many more such communities will become further vulnerable. At the root of recommendations towards resilience is the opportunity to learn together such that households and communities strengthen capacities to adapt and innovate in diverse socio-ecological contexts. Schools and colleges can play significant roles in such capacitation with youth in the frontline.

It is towards this hope that a new UNESCO Report on ‘Futures of Education’ has been launched last week. Entitled ‘Reimagining Our Futures Together: A New Social Contract for Education”, the report makes a strong case for broader public purposes of education, beyond individual skilling. It reiterates the significance of incorporating different ways of knowing and learning, beyond the walls of schools and colleges.

The pedagogy of learning (and teaching) needs to become cooperative (not competitive), infused with solidarity (not individualism), promote appreciation of inter-cultural and ecological diversity. The social contract for education may, therefore, imply societal commitment to enable learning…life-long and life-wide. Parents and teachers of students have to reorient their understanding of education, and learning, in light of the above.

It is in this sense that Antargoonj workshop last week, referred to in the beginning, can be viewed as a microcosm of such a social contract of learning for adolescent youth for young India. Their capacity to socially interact and adapt can be further nurtured through face-to-face engagements in and out of schools.

Read at: The Times of India | Opinion | Social interactions & education futures | Rajesh Tandon | 23 Nov 2021

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About the Author :

Dr. Rajesh Tandon

Dr. Rajesh Tandon is the Founder President of PRIA, New Delhi. He is also a Guest Speaker with IMPRI, New Delhi

Youtube video: #CityConversations | Rajesh Tandon | Inclusive Urbanization amid the COVID 19 Pandemic