No More Closure of Schools, Please
Given the global data, the prolonged closure of the schools as a measure to fight the Corona pandemic has done more harm than good. Therefore, it is high time to open schools all over the country without wasting any time, educational experts are pointing out.
But then, the fact remains that In 175 countries, including India, schools are open, either partially or fully. This is in contrast to Denmark and the Netherlands where schools were never closed, except for a brief period. The result is that, and this is particularly true in case of India, there have been increasing cases of child marriage, child labour and runaway children. The global infection numbers will always be a concern but the WHO, UNICEF and LANCET have said young children aren’t carriers. Children in the older age group could be. But mortality has been dismal.
Because of the closure of the schools, the overwhelming majority of the school children faced learning losses during Pandemic, a UNICEF poll says.
According to the UNICEF poll, 76 percent of parents of children aged 5 to 13 years and 80 percent of teenagers aged 14 to 18 years reported their children learning less as a result of lengthy school closures.
Furthermore, 10% of the pupils polled did not have access to a smartphone either inside or outside of their families.
In 2020, a survey on the condition of learning during the epidemic was done in six states: Assam, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Gujarat, and Uttar Pradesh. It was also shown that nearly half of the youngsters who did not use any remote learning options were completely ignorant of any resources available to them.
Incidentally, on World Children’s Day(November 20), the Parliamentarians & Group for Children (PGC), in collaboration with UNICEF India, organized a Children’s Parliament, in which children submitted a nine-point Charter of Demands to Parliamentarians, imploring them to help their learning recovery.”
With the safe reopening of schools across the country after more than a year, the children’s Charter of Demands focuses attention on safe school reopening, fair access to online learning, decreasing the size of the syllabus, and prioritizing immunization for children.
Students urged that all students have equal access to online learning by providing digital devices and a reliable internet connection. They also requested that children be given free COVID-19 vaccinations so that they can freely engage, play, and learn.
They also urged that schools be reopened with COVID-19 safety measures in place, such as immunization, thermal screening, mask availability in classrooms,
frequent sanitization, and physical separation.
They also requested the government to remove school fees for low-income students and to provide youngsters with access to streaming lessons on television for those who do not have access to online education.
In another study, UNESCO says that prolonged closure of schools due to Covid poses a threat to gender equality.
The global study titled “When schools shut: Gendered impacts of COVID-19 school closures” brings to the fore that girls and boys, young women and men were affected differently by school closures, depending on the context.
“At the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, 1.6 billion students in 190 countries were affected by school closures. Not only did they lose access to education, but also to the myriad benefits of attending school, at an unparalleled scale,” said Stefania Giannini, UNESCO, Assistant Director-General for Education.
“Educational disruption of this extent has alarming effects on learning loss and school dropout. Beyond this, it poses threats to gender equality, including effects on health, wellbeing and protection that are gender-specific,” Giannini said.
Drawing on evidence from about 90 countries and in-depth data collected in local communities, the report shows that gender norms and expectations can affect the ability to participate in and benefit from remote learning. “In poorer contexts, girls’ time to learn was constrained by increased household chores. Boys’ participation in learning was limited by income-generating activities. Girls faced difficulties in engaging in digital remote learning modalities in many contexts because of limited access to internet-enabled devices, a lack of digital skills and cultural norms restricting their use of technological devices,” the report said.
The study pointed out that the digital gender divide was already a concern before the COVID-19 crisis.
“The in-depth studies on Bangladesh and Pakistan in the global report revealed its gendered effects on remote learning during school closures. In the study on Pakistan, only 44 per cent of girls in participating districts reported owning mobile phones for their personal use, whereas 93 per cent of boys did so. Girls who did not own mobile phones reported that they relied on their relatives’ devices, typically those belonging to their fathers,” it said.
“While some of the girls were able to use family members’ phones, they were not always able to do so. Their access was restricted since some parents were concerned that providing girls with access to smartphones would lead to misuse and could result into romantic relationships.”
“The longer girls were out of school, the higher was the risk of learning loss. From April to September 2020, the share of girls reporting that they did not study at all increased from 1 to 10 per cent,” it added.
Noting that the pandemic is a timely reminder that schools are sites not only for learning but also lifelines for girls and boys, an essential space for their health, well-being and protection, the report has several recommendations on how to challenge gender-based barriers for participation in remote learning.
“To advance equal access to gender-responsive and inclusive remote learning, it is recommended to provide a range of remote learning options including low-tech and no-tech solutions spearhead and support efforts to reach the most at-risk learners design, develop gender-responsive educational resources and tools besides providing appropriate teacher support and training use formative assessments to track learning outcomes,” the UNESCO study said.