In addition to several other damages, the coronavirus pandemic has caused a major school outage. Students whose grade levels, especially in rural and semi-urban areas, were already well below the target feel completely lost. Teachers who have gone through a traumatic time coping with the Covid crisis in their families, while negotiating unfamiliar online courses, associated technical issues and endless online meetings are also lost when encountering, for example , a class VII student who completely failed lessons V and VI. A recent series of articles in this article have highlighted the challenges posed by the educational emergency in Delhi’s classrooms. The student, in many cases, could come from a family of first-generation learners; she is unlikely to have a smart device or connectivity to attend the sporadic online classes. Nor is it unlikely that his parents lost their jobs.
Several post-pandemic studies have shown that students are falling behind in all school subjects. It has also been shown that online courses have not proven useful and education cannot continue in this faceless idle mode. A recent survey by the Vidya Bhawan Society, Udaipur showed that in 2021 the proficiency levels of middle school students in Hindi and English were dismal. This happened due to a complete disruption of studies during the pandemic, especially in the case of disadvantaged students who lacked digital devices, connectivity, books and dedicated space for learning. A much larger survey by the National Achievement Survey (NAS) of 34 lakh students in grades III, V, VIII and IX reports a striking drop across subjects and grades (IE, May 26). The decline was much more pronounced in rural areas than in urban areas. The nature and severity of the crisis will vary from place to place and no one-size-fits-all solution is likely to be pragmatic.
Deficits in reading comprehension and basic math skills inevitably impact learning in all other school subjects. All states have tried to solve this problem in their own way. However, what seems common to their efforts is a desire to identify “learning gaps” and close them quickly to create a sense that “all is well”. We must understand that there are no shortcuts in education. This requires appropriate teachers, teaching and learning materials and time. A major crisis in education is not just about identifying and closing some learning gaps. Nor is it a question of quickly creating capsule programs in terms of linear and additive learning outcomes. It would be wrong to treat education according to the doctor-patient model based on diagnosis, prognosis and corrective intervention.
Those who were closely involved in the District Primary Education Program (DPEP) of the 1990s will recall that the Union Department of Human Resource Development, State Committees on Educational Research and Training and the district education and training institutes have worked in perfect synchronization for five or more years. then. It was also possible at that time to create district, block and cluster resource centers (DRC, BRC, CRC). The academic model adopted was one of a type of cascade training where a state-level cadre of Master Trainers (MTs) was created through a series of workshops, often led by college professors or of university. MTs were supposed to train primary school teachers using DRC, BRC and CRC. At the end of the five-year mission, the whole edifice collapsed like a house of cards. The DPEP has been implemented in 273 districts in 18 states. The mission was supposed to “overhaul the primary education system in the country”. Has anything significant happened at DPEP in terms of the academic growth and conceptual clarity of elementary students? Has our primary school system been overhauled? One wonders if anyone would come forward for an affirmative answer.
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The response to school disruption in the post-pandemic period is again done within the same framework of “diagnosis, prognosis and treatment”. “Elite Teams” are created to review gaps and learning outcomes and reconfigure and scale down the curriculum. A small group of TMs will train thousands of teachers in a short time with a guide. Adapted teaching and learning materials will also be prepared to match this whole exercise. All of this would be done at breakneck speed to close the learning gaps. But can such an effort be effective when the DPEP has obtained nothing substantial over a period of more than five years?
The fact that education is about ensuring rational research and enriching cognitive abilities must be recognized. It cannot be done in haste. Why do we always have to look for medical or managerial solutions to educational crises that require long-term intervention? There’s no way to bring back the lost years. But it’s also impossible to use quick fixes – online, offline, or a combination of both – to recover lost learning.
Our schools officially operate for approximately 180 teaching days; actual teaching days vary enormously depending on the context. Can we think of running the school for about 240 days? Current teachers who are already overworked and traumatized should no longer be called upon. We should fill all teaching vacancies. Thousands of trained graduates have been waiting for years to teach. Appoint them as temporary teachers with immediate effect. Let’s invite our recently retired teachers and pay them well. Some college and university teachers may volunteer to teach schools, say, once a week. Can we dedicate, say, 60 days a year for a two-year period to cover the curriculum that students missed? Rather than opting for shortcuts and tackling ‘hard spots’ or ‘learning gaps’, we should ensure a comprehensive response to an acute education emergency. Students must work through the entire curriculum originally laid out for them, and they must do so by engaging in conceptually challenging tasks. Let’s not forget that students love going to school and engaging in group activities, sports and cultural programs. Good teachers are their lifeline. They start avoiding school when it gets boring.
The author retired from University of Delhi and is Emeritus Professor, Vidya Bhawan Society, Udaipur