As the schools are reopening, schedules being restructured and new session supposed to be started from 1st of April as per the MHRD guidelines, we are all happy as teachers and parents to resume normal life and face to face teaching learning.
However, Learning Deficiencies or Learning Gaps as induced by the school closures during the last year are going to be a major issue to start with. A Learning Gap is the difference between what a student has learnt and what she/he was expected to learn during that class or grade. As an educationist, I am skeptical that in the mad rush to cover the syllabus in the new session and to make up for the lost profits whether the schools are going to do justice to the cause of education and to the cause of children in their care in the long run. Reading the survey reports , reflecting on the crisis and teaching learning dynamics of the last year, I believe the schools are going to face specific challenges in the following aspects;
Delayed Admissions/Enrolments: A lot of children, about 8% as per survey report DCTVS-4, in the early childhood category could not start the school. Which category must they belong to? Should they be enrolled in the next grades as per their age, following the No Detention Policy or should they be enrolled back in grades and start fresh beginning? In case if they are enrolled back the age issues will crop over the years and if they are enrolled in the next class without building on early reading, writing and numeracy skills, the learning graph in the long run is definitely going to be impacted. Beginning without foundational buildup will be a colossal damage. More over the brains of growing children have not been stimulated enough through academic rigor at schools over the last year that a dent has already been cast into their learning abilities.
So, whatever grades they are accommodated in, as per the government guidelines or individual school’s understanding of the importance of early childhood learning experiences, all schools might need a lot of strategizing to iron out the learning deficiencies and bring them at grade level learning competence.
Bridging Inequalities: While most of the schools made sincere efforts to provide learning to their children through online platforms, recorded lectures and videos, sharing learning material through various digital mediums like WhatsApp and e-mails, yet the socio-economic background and parental support to provide the teaching-learning experiences to children has resulted in inequalities in learning outcomes. Delhi Coronavirus Telephone Survey Wave 4, (DCTVS-4)Report brought out that there is a substantial inequality in access to online learning. Urban children (75%) and those from rich background (71%) were more likely to have participated in such online learning than rural children (55%) and poor households (55%) respectively. Overall 47% of the poorest children were left out.
It simply means, even if a school has been highly successful in providing online learning to its students, there is a high probability that the children sitting in the same class are currently at abnormally different levels of learnings based on their socio economic backgrounds. So, schools must not overlook this fact and plan specific remedial suited to the individual needs of children coming from poor households.
For this to happen with real effect, the school leaders have to think beyond the commercial aspects of schooling and look at the need to bridge the gap from a long-term perspective of contributing to build the futuristic workforce of India. There is every probability for education to turn out to be creating more gaps between rich and poor class and make it a commodity available to rich and educated class if the inequalities created during schools closure are not ironed out with a comprehensive understanding.
Mastering Foundational Skills: Not only addressing to the specific needs of children coming from poor household, the school must remember that learning happens through regular repetition and experiential environment. Even where the schools have been able to successfully arrange the learning for their learners, most of them might not have attained the minimum levels of learning due to school closure and lack of optimum learning environment at homes.
Previous ASERs (Annual Status of Education Reports) have already shown that a significant proportion of children lack basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills and this lack has definitely intensified during closure. So, before plunging into the syllabus for the session, the schools must plan;
· to assess the age-appropriate minimum learning levels achieved by the children and accordingly plan further learning experiences.
· to focus on mastery of foundational skills such as Reading, Writing and Numeracy (3Rs of Educational Objectives) rather than focusing on completion of syllabus.
· to plan intense remedial classes particularly for children in the 6-14 age group with specific considerations for children from poor socio-economic background.
The unprecedented situation created by pandemic has an inherent opportunity in it. Let all educational leaders in the school ecosystem see that silver lining and use this opportunity to build on the foundational skills for all further learning to happen.
We all know that intensive interventions as done by educational NGO Pratham, can substantially improve learning outcomes. So, the schools must focus on addressing the challenges created by pandemic and strategize well in time as to how can they assess the learning deficiencies specific to their context, socio economic and cultural background of their children and what measures do they have to take to overcome them BUT all schools must acknowledge the challenges in the larger interest of education and nation irrespective of their demography, location and context before they plan to overcome it.
A lot of research facts are available world wide addressing the issue. Let us dig deeper into them and acknowledge the fact and plan accordingly for the new session.
All the Best to all our Learners, to the Future of Education and to the Future of the Mankind!!!