With the unlock 2.0 strategy of the country announced by the Union government on June 29, it’s now official. All education institutions which have been closed since mid-March will be obliged to remain shut until July 31. This means that children in preschool-class XII in north and western India where the school year begins in April, lose four months of the new academic year, and children in peninsular India where the academic year begins in June will lose two months.
Although some wiseacres have suggested that nothing much will be lost if the new academic year is written off as a gap year for all children, it will be too high a price to pay for a nation with rock-bottom learning outcomes in primary education. There is clear and present danger that tens of millions of pre and primary school children will forget what they have learned and will have to restart learning afresh.
The consensus of opinion of informed educators is that remote online learning is no substitute for group learning in brick-n-mortar schools which offer the advantages of teacher pupil mentoring and invaluable peer-to-peer learning. Moreover, it’s now well-accepted that education is more than academic accomplishment, and should include development of life skills such as communication and reasoned debate capability, teamwork and social interaction. Every child also has the right to holistic education which develops her co-curricular and sports and games intelligences. This rounded education is best delivered in traditional classrooms and campuses.
In the circumstances, the public and national interest demand that the unprecedented four-month lockdown of education institutions is not extended beyond July 31. The risk of a substantial number of children contracting the coronavirus has to be carefully minimised through strict implementation of now well-known safety measures such as face-masking, frequent hand washing, regular sanitisation of institutional premises and social distancing. An additional child safety measure that could be implemented is to reduce classroom strength by inviting children to learn from home and attend classes on alternate days, i.e, three times per week.
Inevitably, the blended learning education model outlined above will raise the price of learning. As argued at length in our cover story, middle class and elite households need to rework their budgets to pay for better, safer education provided by private schools. Simultaneously, the Central government has to take the lead and substantially increase its public education budgetary outlay. The standard excuse of paucity of funds has become paper thin and unacceptable. Your editors have repeatedly presented the Union government and the Delhi establishment a detailed calculus (https://www.educationworld.in/ union-budget-2020-21-small-changefor-human-capital-development/) on ways and means to mobilise Rs.8 lakh crore for investment in developing the country’s abundant, high-potential but long-neglected human resource. The prolonged national education deficit has to be urgently made good. Sine qua non.