According to all indications, the worst of the Coronavirus aka Covid-19 pandemic which prompted the complete shutdown of industry, business and trade nationwide for over three months — and closure of all education institutions from pre-primary to Ph D for over nine months and counting — is over. The infections curve has flattened across the country and the total number of fatalities has been contained at 155,000 (February 8). Schools and higher education institutions are cautiously re-opening, and following the presentation of a pro-production and business growth Union Budget 2021-22, the engines of the economy have started humming and its wheels are gathering momentum. Compared with the Spanish flu epidemic of 1915-19 which took a toll of 50 million lives worldwide and 12 million in India, this time humanity has got off lightly.
For the nation bruised and battered by this deadly virus, it’s time to count the cost and repair damage. Although several million citizens have suffered grievous loss of lives, livelihood and employment, the country’s most vulnerable 500 million youngest citizens in the 0-24 age group — the world’s largest child and youth population — have been worst hit in terms of irreversible loss of learning and heavy psychological and emotional damage. But curiously, neither government nor the establishment seems to be aware of this.
Despite 48 percent of the country’s children studying in private schools and 70 percent of youth in private higher education institutions, neither the prime minister’s Rs.20.97 lakh crore damp squib pandemic relief package announced last May, and Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s five mini-budgets of last year, nor the Union Budget 2021-22 presented to Parliament and the public on February 1, provided any relief, aid or incentives for private education institutions. Most are suffering acute distress because of loss of income for over 10 months since last March.
In particular, reports that private pre-primaries aka preschools, are in deep distress with thousands shutting down operations, are especially disheartening for your editors in EducationWorld because we have been in the vanguard of a new millennium movement to impact the critical importance of professionally administered ECCE (early childhood care and education) for India’s youngest and neglected infants in the 0-5 age group. The extent of damage done to ECCE during the pandemic is reported in our cover story of this issue.
In the special report feature, managing editor Summiya Yasmeen takes a broader view and assesses the damage done to the education system as a whole by the pandemic, and ways and means to repair it.
Also check out my interview with Dr. Shashi Tharoor, MP and author, litterateur, wordsmith, darling of the educated middle class, who would arguably have been India’s best ever Union education minister. Don’t rule it out.