According to a new five-state survey conducted by the non-profit Oxfam India, more than 80 percent parents with children studying in government schools reported that education was “not delivered” during the lockdown. In Bihar, 100 percent of the parents interviewed voiced this view.
This failure was mostly because families did not have digital devices, said the study released on September 4. The survey was conducted among 1,158 parents and 488 teachers across Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh between May and June.
Only 15 percent of India’s rural households have access to the internet and these numbers are even fewer among marginalised social groups such as Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims, as per government data. Further, gendered access to digital mediums excluded many girls from education during the coronavirus lockdown.
Around 80 percent of the parents surveyed by Oxfam India said that their children had no textbooks to support online classes. 71 percent teachers who took part in the survey said it is imperative that textbooks reach children before the classes start.
In government schools, the impact of Covid-19 affected not only the delivery of education but also that of additional entitlements such as the provision of learning material and mid-day meals, said the study. Despite the Supreme Court’s direction to states to ensure the supply of these essential amenities, about 35 percent children did not receive their mid-day meals.
Around 59 percent of parents with children studying in private schools reported non-delivery of education, the study found. 40 percent of teachers said they feared that a third of students will not return to schools once they reopen.
The Oxfam study found that in homes that had digital access, WhatsApp was the primary mode (75 percent) for delivering education in both public and private schools, followed by phone calls between teachers and students (38 percent).
More than 75 percent of parents had trouble ensuring WhatsApp lessons because of the lack of an internet connection or the inability to afford it and sometimes, poor internet speed/signal. Jharkhand fared the worst with more than 40 percent of parents said they did not have the “right” device. Parents whose children study in private schools complained mostly about poor internet speed and signal.
About 84 percent of teachers interviewed said they faced problems with digital schooling; half of them reported issues with internet signal and data expenses. Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh reported the most number of teachers – 80 and 67 percent, respectively, without digital devices to deliver lessons. Less than 20 percent teachers reported being given any kind of orientation on how to teach digitally; in Bihar and Jharkhand, the figure was less than 5 percent.
More than half the teachers surveyed were of the view that low-tech and accessible technology such as radio and non-digital learning materials including books were more effective than online classrooms.
The study also pointed to the absence of state initiative in starting innovative, non-digital and more inclusive methods of education in areas with low infection rates. The mohalla schools of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh were cited as examples of what could have been done – in these village schools, a small group of students is taught in open spaces while maintaining social distancing. This ensures that all students get to attend classes at least twice a week.
Ankit Kaushik Vyas, an author of the Oxfam survey said, “In Haryana’s Nuh district, an estimated 70,000 students were disconnected from education since they did not have access to the internet. This is slowly changing because of mohalla classes being introduced there through the involvement of volunteers.”
Vyas added, “It is important to understand that the objective of mohalla classes is to provide access to education and help students remain connected to learning. Because mohalla classes are conducted within the community in public spaces and do not require students to have access to the internet, a smartphone, a TV – the lack of conditions for access is what makes it effective.”
Some communities were more affected by the closure of schools. Recent findings suggest that 115 million children in India are at risk of malnutrition due to the pandemic. Of them, children from Adivasi and Dalit communities are most at risk due to their dependence on mid-day meals. According to a report funded by the United Nations Children’s Fund stated that adolescent girls suffer more from malnutrition issues due to deprivation and less autonomy in making life choices.
These marginalised groups face additional problems due to the digital divide. Less than 15 percent of Dalit, Adivasi and Muslim households have access to the internet, according to the Oxfam survey. Additionally, only 29 percent of India internet users are women. As a result, children from disadvantaged backgrounds are likely to lose almost 40 percent of their previous year’s learnings.
The study recommended the implementation of various social protection schemes to protect at-risk children such as Bal Shramik Vidya Yojana in UP and central such as the mid-day meal programme, the Integrated Child Development Services scheme and scholarship schemes for students with disabilities, adolescent girls and minority groups.
Despite government pleas to consider a fee reduction during the lockdown, 39 percent parents of children in private schools reported paying an increased fee for the upcoming academic year, the study said.
“The economic impact of Covid-19 is likely to be felt over the next few years, particularly in terms of job cuts and a reduction in income across the board. This increases the urgency to regulate private schools so that they become institutions of learning rather than centres of exploitation and loot.”
The survey reported that 35 percent of children did not receive their mid-day meals despite Supreme Court orders to ensure their supply. Amongst the 65 percent of children who received these meals, only 8 percent received cooked meals. A total of 53 percent received dry rations and 4 percent received money as direct benefit transfer.
Of the five states surveyed, UP fared the worst – 92 percent of children reported not receiving mid-day meals in any form. Chhattisgarh fared the best with over 90 percent of children receiving their meals. The study located this difference in the mode through which the meals were delivered – while Chattisgarh focused primarily on home delivery of rations, UP focused on providing a food security allowance.
School premises are currently being used as quarantine centres and ration distribution centres. The survey found schools unprepared to reopen – 43 percent of teachers surveyed believe that their schools were not water, sanitation and hygiene-ready enough to ensure safe hygiene practices. This means that the schools did not have sustainable, safe water supply points, hand-wash stands, sanitation facilities, fully integrated life skills education and a focus on key hygiene behaviours as per the UNICEF guidelines.
Additionally, 75 percent of teachers carrying out field tasks during the pandemic reported that they did not get the protective equipment they needed or paid any hazard allowance. Only 10 percent of teachers conducting non-teaching field duties were given safety gear.
Source: IndiaSpendNational, News