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The economic impact of learning losses during pandemic

– Sanjay Padode, President, Vijaybhoomi University

The disruption caused by the pandemic is known to all. The loss of near-and-dear ones, wages, opportunities, and the freedom of movement are probably the most tangible and are being felt by all. This black swan event has lasted more than everyone’s expectation and the light at end of the tunnel is yet evasive. The final impact of this will be known only when it is over. Many debates are currently discussing the impact on culture and the future of work as they take priority. However, we must also start worrying about the impact on learning for our newborns, in high school-going children, university students, and those who are transitioning between School and University.

The Indian education system is one of the largest if not the largest system in the world. This system was coerced to slam its brakes and come to a standstill putting at risk the learning for more than 280 million students of this country. A near 18-month gap, coupled with the economic hardships within families, resulting from the estimated 7.35 million job losses and scaling down of more than 60% of MSME pose a serious risk to our demographic dividend. The economic hardships can force families to reconsider their investment into education and use the extra hands at home to work. Thus, resulting in a “learning loss” which can prove fatal to any economy at a time when knowledge and skill are considered to be the driving forces. The withdrawal of students from such a large education system, driven by private educators, can create another economic crisis resulting in job or wage losses for faculty and staff. Loss of such jobs can trigger brain drain from our country compounding the current shortage of teachers. Such impacts are near term and will be felt shortly, however, the long-term economic impact is more ominous.

The Indian economy emerged as an information technology powerhouse and healthy startup ecosystem primarily due to the investments made by our families in education. A reduction of this investment will surely deplete this workforce forcing the economy to go back to an agro-industrial economy. Such a U-turn will make us susceptible to competition from other emerging economies, making us lose our edge and pushing us back to the good old days of “Hindu Growth Rate”. This spells like doom! yes, it does. Provided we do not act now.

The learning “loss” can also bring a learning “gain” to our system. We have one of the youngest populations globally, and this population has had the opportunity to self-learn and learn through the online mode. We will probably have the maximum experience of delivering online education in terms of teaching and learning hours. We were fortunate to have a reasonably good digital communication infrastructure this helped us garner the new-age teaching and learning experience. Building on this experience and developing the skills for continuous learning will help us overcome the learning loss and it has the potential to help build a robust and sustainable online learning environment at affordable costs. Changing the investment strategy at the center to promote “learning from home” could reduce the need for physical infrastructure and could help the country overcome the shortage of teachers. Changing the measure of education from progression measured by “Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER)” to pure learning “Gross Learning Engagement (GLE)”, measured by computing hours spent by all on learning could alter the education dynamics of our country. Learning from the lessons of “learning losses” imposed on us by the pandemic and acting on it can give our country exponential growth after a short pause. However, if we allow the learnings to go by, it can also impoverish us substantially. We are on a crossroad straddling opportunity and threat.

Also read: Vijaybhoomi University: A liberating force in education, whose time has come!

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