The impact of Covid-19 has been far and wide. The education sector has witnessed a massive transformation in India during the pandemic. Nearly 250 million students were affected as a result of all this hullaballoo. What started as a temporary arrangement for a fortnight became the new normal. Zoom became a household name and was nothing less than a savior for many educational institutes. While disruption of conventional classrooms somewhat paved the way for the technological evolution of education, there is more than meets the eyes.
In keeping up with the global trends, schools in India soon adapted to organizing classes through webinars, online sessions, and radio programs. While it somehow contributed to maintaining the continuity of studies, many parents and teachers were concerned about the feasibility of online education. A large number of students did not own the resources such as good internet connectivity and gadgets required for such classes. It was a stumbling block, especially in the rural and semi-urban parts of the country. The illiteracy of the parents led the entire situation into even more dire straits.
The challenge was not only for the students but also for the teachers. Many of them were not well-acquainted with digital tools such as whiteboards, features such as mute/unmute, breakout rooms, etc. However, a quick adaption to the ways of the new normal served as an inspiration to many.
Of the two things that need special attention here, one is the provision of the Mid-Day meal. For a substantial chunk of students in India, education is synonymous with nutrition. It not only nurtures their mental quotient but also their physical quotient in the form of a midday meal. Nearly 108 million students across the nation get their nutritional needs met through this initiative. As a result of school closure, such children went deprived of nutrition. The second and equally important matter is the female education in families which belong to weaker socioeconomic strata of the society. When the resources are scarce, families allocate them based on priority. Continuing the education for girls came as an additional financial cost for a large number of families in India because they now had to arrange extra laptops and mobile phones for them. In the wake of the pandemic, we are thus witnessing a drop in the number of female students. According to a study done by UNICEF India in 2021, 38% of respondents knew a girl who has dropped out of school in the aftermath of the pandemic.
There was also a lot of conundrum when it came to exams. They got postponed a million times and canceled a trillion times. One mostly overlooked aspect of this pandemonium is the mental well-being of the students. The contentment that we find in the sense of belonging and the need to bond with others are two of the major contributors to the holistic growth of children. Lack of personal interaction with teachers and other students has taken a toll on the mental-health of the students.
Despite the efforts to set up the best possible remote learning experience, evidence suggests that the closure of educational institutes has resulted in learning losses. The concerning thing is that these losses may translate to long-term challenges such as unemployment, and a shortage of skilled workers in the economy. To alleviate these challenges and prepare for future crises, we need to build resilient systems that can make our spines stronger. The New Education Policy 2020 (abbreviated NEP 2020) addresses the following key challenges post-pandemic:
1. Rollback the number of dropouts
2. Holistic well-being and minimizing learning loss
3. Integration of digital learning
4. Role of teachers and human resources
5. Sustainability of private schools
The road to recovery seems long. A resilient and flexible approach with a long-term vision is the need of the hour for the educational institutes in India, and a lot is in the hands of policy-makers.