The Impact of COVID-19 on the education sector
Human Rights Watch reported that more than 1.5 billion students are out of school already.
Widespread job and income loss along with economic insecurity among families is likely to
also increase child labour, sexual exploitation, teen pregnancies among other woes. While the entire world is currently in lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses
have adapted (with varying levels of success) to work-from-home (WFH) policies.
But what’s the situation in the education sector? More than 91 percent of the world’s students are out of school, due to school closures in at least 188 countries. The education
sector is facing unprecedented challenges and needs to adapt and find solutions to keep
children motivated and in their route to learning. How will the education sector and educators
deal overcome these challenges? How will children continue to learn, even as school, by
necessity, becomes a digital space?
Inequality among children has been brought into sharp focus
School-going children are, naturally, the worst affected education sector stakeholders. For pupils, the lockdown doesn’t just mean reduced cashflow or a professional setback: it represents an interruption to their learning journey. And in the case of dropouts, it was the final straw for at-risk children who struggled to get an education at the best of times.
The lockdown has aggravated deep-set class and social differences especially between private and public school systems. The Indian government spends 4.6 percent of its GDP on education. This is lower than in sub-Saharan countries like Kenya, Togo, and Zimbabwe. At the best of times, access to education is a critical challenge faced by young people across the country. According to a study in the IJIRMF, class I school enrolment increased by a staggering 30 percent after the Midday Meal Scheme was implemented. This implies that access to food, much less access to education is a key driving force behind school enrolment. These students almost certainly do not have access to remote and digital learning facilities at home. What this means is that, for millions of Indian students, the lockdown has brought all education to a complete halt.
Because access to midday meals is the primary reason so many Indian students attend school, if the lockdown continues for much longer, there is a chance that India’s dropout rate-which is already among the world’s highest-might increase further.
On the other hand, a minority of students attending urban private schools are seeing their education continue through standard digital platforms. While e-learning is still in its nascent stages, students and teachers at these institutions have the technology and the wherewithal to use video conferencing, email, and other technologies to continue their learning experience. Children below the age of 8 years need parent support just to do the basics, even then the learning experience if below par.
Lack of readiness and infrastructure for teachers
Teachers across the country are scrambling to find ways to continue teaching their pupils in a situation where physical contact is no longer possible. Again, class and social divides play a big role in determining how successful teachers are in teaching schoolchildren during the pandemic. Teachers at the country’s premiere private schools are tech savvy: most have access to the internet at home, as well as the other digital infrastructure required to craft and share course material. Some of these institutes might even have experimented with e-learning facilities-like online homework submission-before the crisis. This minority of teachers will be able to provide an adequate e-learning experience for their pupils, ensuring continuity.
This, unfortunately, is not the case when it comes to the vast majority teachers in the country. Nearly one in five primary school teaching positions is vacant today. Even in better times, many schools in rural India were run by just a single teacher. According to the World Bank, only half of India’s teachers are actually teaching on any given day because of sky high teacher absence rates. When a large number of teachers don’t even teach when schools are open, it’s hard to imagine a better outcome when schools are under lockdown. Some teachers may thrive in this new world, but majority of the teachers will need to upgrade not only their technologically skills but also their teaching resources, in most cases it will just not be feasible.We have already seen the world without classrooms but it more and more teachers incapable of teaching in these circumstances, visualising a world without teachers is disastrous.
How is e-learning impacting already burdened parents?
According to CRY, poverty and availability are major reasons behind school dropouts in India. Poverty-the first reason attributed-is a family problem. Children who go to school are unable to help their parents out on the farm or at the shop. This makes many parents reluctant supporters of schooling in the best of times. It’s not clear right now how parents of schoolchildren, especially in rural areas, are reacting to the lockdown. Many of them are now unemployed and quickly running out of limited savings or already in debt. This could mean that when the lockdown lifts, many parents might compel their kids to dropout to help support the family financially.
The lockdown presents problems even to wealthier parents in urban spaces: they have to help children set up e-learning stations at home, monitor them round the clock, and deal with stress and tantrums. In case with children in primary and preprimary, where both parents are working from home, its difficult for parents to juggle between their own work, household work and children’s online education.
School owners: Cash crunch and survival woes
School owners are going to see a major cashflow crunch because of the lockdown. Many schools, specially daycare operate with a monthly fee structure. If the lockdown continues, these payments will dry up. However, expenses, including rent, salaries, and other costs, may stay the same. Many education institutions are run as not-for-profit or generate minimal profits. This means that, by and large, they lack the cash reserves to deal with an extended shutdown. Smaller schools around the country might shut down permanently. School owner will be forced to downsize and renegotiate rentals, since this looks like a washout year. Petitions and PILs against schools under these circumstances keep adding to their woes.
The government: plans unclear as of now
While the Indian government has done a commendable job enforcing the lockdown, worryingly little has been said til date about the government’s education sector strategy. So far, all we’ve heard from official channels is a directive preventing schools from hiking fees during the lockdown. The government is taking time to deliberate on a strategy. Having a clearer idea of what it plans to do could help educators and school owners around the country. Though some unofficially reports indicate indicate schools may open by 1st of october, which would mean a good part of the year will be lost. There is is no news on financial support to schools, while petitions and PILs backed by politicians against schools interests keep growing.
The COVID-19 epidemic is hitting everyone hard. But schools, which have always been places for real-life, physical interaction, have been among the hardest hit. As hundreds of millions of students around the world struggle to study at home, it remains to be seen how educators and the sector on a whole will deal with the new learn-at-home reality.
In India, technology solutions to the challenge seem limited at present to premier, urban-centric institutions. But if the lockdown and the education downturn continue, there’s a real, pressing need for innovators to come up with technologies that can help Indians learn remotely, especially in the most remote and vulnerable parts of the country. Not much has changed in this sector for almost 2 centuries maybe this was just the wake up call that was needed. This is not time to wait and let the tide pass, but to rise and re-engineer the education sector to benefit all the stake holders.