The coronavirus pandemic which has crippled the nation for over one and a half years now, has also forced thousands of students out of education across the country.
New admissions have been paused, playschools have been shut, students have dropped out, and many schools have been closed. Many parents can’t afford school fees anymore owing to the unemployment caused by the pandemic followed by several lockdowns.
The supporters of in-person learning are stressing on the idea of bringing children back to the schools, but others are skeptical, given the experts warning of imminent and anticipated third wave of COVID-19.
There is no doubt about the fact that pandemic has severely bruised the education system in the country. Pointing at the issue, the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) on July 31, 2021 said that the schools must reopen to avoid the disruption of education.
“We cannot risk more disruption to education. To prevent the COVID-19 pandemic from having a life-long impact on an entire generation of children and young people, especially the most vulnerable, schools must reopen for in-person learning as soon as possible - and stay open,” the UNICEF tweeted.
Recently, over 50 academicians, including professors from IIT-Bombay, IIT-Delhi, and Delhi University, doctors, lawyers, and parents from Maharashtra, Delhi, and Karnataka wrote an open letter to their respective Chief Ministers presenting a case to reopen schools.
The petitioner said that there may never be a “zero-case scenario” as COVID-19 is here to stay. They have also mentioned in addition to learning loss, children are facing mental distress, reduced social skills, and losing confidence.
“We are already witnessing extreme dropout rates in several states. As a country, this break from schools would push us back by decades. Not just rural and urban poor who are at a loss, children from well-to-do families are facing serious mental health issues too. Many countries have already opened their schools,” Bhaskaran Raman, professor in the computer science and engineering department, IIT-Bombay, said
Meanwhile, many studies have reflected how the digital divide has created a fault line in India’s education system—forcing many schools to shut.
One such example of this situation is Telangana’s Secunderabad where a school named Sri Sai Bala Nikethan High School-- educating underprivileged children for the past five decades, has been pushed towards bankruptcy and on the verge of shutting down due to the prevailing situation caused by the pandemic.
“Our strength has dropped from 200 students to just 60 as many families with meagre or no incomes are struggling to pay the fees or buy the gadgets required to attend online education. We are finding it very hard to run the school now,” CS Omkareshwar, a schools correspondent said.
Undoubtedly, the pandemic has given birth to many questions that revolve around the safety and well-being of children. If the citizens follow the COVID protocol and protect the children from the imminent third wave then how do we solve the problem of children being out of school?
If the schools reopen keeping the disruption of education in mind then another challenge is that parents may not feel secure about sending children to school yet, and teachers may not be confident about going to school themselves.