Children’s Day 2021 heralds the return of young children to school as 32 states in India have reopened schools and many for the primary students as well. On the occasion of Child Rights Week, Unicef India unveiled a symbolic ‘Pandemic Classroom’ installation at the amphitheatre at Select Citywalk in Saket, New Delhi.
Rows of empty desks and chairs with unused school bags, copies, books, lunchboxes, and pencil boxes were used to draw attention to learning loss caused due to the roughly 18 months of school closures in India during Covid-19 that gravely impacted millions of children as it took away their regular learning routine.
Yasumasa Kimura, Unicef Country Representative a.i. and two adolescents unveiled the pandemic classroom installation by ringing a traditional metal school bell with a gong.
Noted educationist, Venita Kaul, Professor Emeritus, Early Childhood Education, Ambedkar University was a key speaker at the event. Unicef celebrity advocate, Kareena Kapoor Khan, shared her video message supporting school reopening and learning recovery.
The pandemic classroom installation will be on display for a week from November 14 (India’s Children Day) till November 20, 2021 (World Children’s Day).
(from L to R) Sunisha Ahuja, Education Specialist ECE, UNICEF India; three adolescenets representing India’s school-going population;Venita Kaul, Professor Emeritus, Early Childhood Education, Ambedkar; Yasumasa Kimura, Unicef Country Representative a.i.
How Covid-19 caused a major learning loss in students: Highlights
- The pandemic that started off as a health crisis had fast turned into a learning crisis with prolonged school closure a major fallout of the pandemic.
- This had detrimental effect not only education but also on children’s physical and psychological wellbeing.
- Online learning became the sole resort while many children were left out due to lack of connectivity.
- Approximately 1.5 million schools and 1.4 million ECD/Anganwadi centres were closed during this period.
- Through pandemic waves since last year, most schools closed and re-opened several times. Consequently nearly 247 million children could not go to school for more than a year.
- Millions of children also missed out on a hot cooked midday meal (school meal), which for many was the most nutritious meal of the day.
- The longer children are out of school, the less likely that they will return and are at greater risk of being married off or prematurely join the workforces.
- According to Unicef’s rapid assessment conducted in six states in 2020 Assam, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Gujarat, and Uttar Pradesh, 76 percent of parents of children between the ages of 5-13 years, and 80 percent of adolescents between 14-18 years, reported learning less compared to when they were going to school.
Why is learning loss such a big deal?
Learning losses are about the extended period of time when young children especially are not in regular touch with learning skills something that develops with day-to-day habits.
The longer a child stays out of schools, especially for children from homes where they may be the first-generation learners, the more are the chances they will simply forget how to read and write.
In the vast number of underprivileged homes in India, children who face high learning losses will be married off at a young age or forced to join the workforce. They will never come back to school.
As Unicef’s Kimura says, “The future of an entire generation is at stake. The most vulnerable are paying the heaviest price of school closures and many have forgotten to read or write.”
Kareena Kapoor Khan shared a video message for Unicef’s ‘pandemic classroom’ unvieling on Children’s Day.
What did Kareena Kapoor Khan have to say?
Unicef Celebrity Advocate Kareena Kapoor Khan in her video message said that while we may rejoice the reopening of schools, we need to remember that a vast number of children didn’t have access to remote learning or home-based education.
“Teachers, parents and many others have made considerable efforts to help children continue their learning, yet children may still have some catching up to do and it will happen. Let’s together join hands to give them a safe and protective environment, that helps them learn,” she said.
Yasumasa Kimura, Unicef Country Representative a.i.
What do schools need to ensure before they reopen?
“The empty pandemic classroom symbolizes the scare of the education crisis in India because 1.5 million schools and around 1.4 million anganwadi centres were closed during the pandemic,” says Yasumasa Kimura, Unicef Country Representative a.i.
He says it’s great that schools have reopened in 32 states but that we need to ensure a safe environment for students to return. How do we do that?
“Firstly, the environment needs to be safe so that parents are confident about sending their children back,” he says.
“To do that, we need to ensure schools have proper ventilation, students are maintaining social distancing, and proper handwashing centres for sanitization are available,” Kimura adds.
“Unicef’s assessments show that children have considerably lost their learning ability such as how to read and write. Schools need to be ready to help kids get back to their study habit and help them regain what they had learned,” he says.
“It is going to be a long journey and not a quick habit. This is something parents, teachers school administration and the government and us need to work together to obtain,” he adds.
Venita Kaul, Professor Emeritus, Early Childhood Education, Ambedkar University
Young kids don’t just learn from books — how will they recover their learning loss?
At the pre-school stage, learning is very holistic and not just of the cognitive or academic kind you learn from books.
“Since the brain development is very rapid in the earliest years of life, the children are acquiring a lot of cognitive, psychosocial, language, physical, emotional and motor competencies,” explains Venita Kaul, Professor Emeritus, Early Childhood Education, Ambedkar University.
“If they don’t get the necessary opportunities which they have been deprived of during the pandemic, there is every likelihood it will be very difficult to make up for these later on because all these prepare children for learning for life as well as for school,” she says.
So, can this learning loss be recovered at all?
“It can be recovered and regained if the kids get the right kind of education, curriculum and learning environment now. Thus, it is very important to ensure that these children come back to a preschool kind of situation all the way up to eight years of age,” Venita Kaul says.
“They need to be given a very play-based and activity-based learning method and not the chalk and talk academic environment that are seen now, as they will not help them recover these skills,” she adds.
“Further, they need to be given a lot of care, individual attention and a learning environment which is enabling and appreciative of the children which scaffolds their learning and development and is not at all threatening for them. That is very important,” says the professor.
She explains that there are certain skills and habits that the youngest kids learn at a school setting which they haven’t yet, such as — focusing on a given task, sitting at the desk for the required number of hours and building new relationships.
“By giving children tasks related to the skills to be learnt, not necessarily out of textbooks but out of their own home experiences, we can help children emotionally ‘get back’ to school and to begin enjoying and making sense of what they are learning,” she says.
Sunisha Ahuja, Education Specialist ECE, UNICEF India
How do we get started on hybrid learning and get adequate digital resources?
Whether it is the underprivileged children with little to no access to digital resources, or even those in Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities who did have access, learning loss was experienced by almost every child during the Covid-19 school closures.
“Parents and teachers have reported that even children who did have access to home-based, online learning didn’t learn effectively,” says Sunisha Ahuja, Education Specialist ECE, UNICEF India.
She says that the learning recovery programmes that schools need to adopt now need to be flexible and start from where the children are, and also need to be hybrid as it is inevitable for the future, citing the Delhi school closures for a week now due to pollution.
“The hybrid approaches need to be fixed on a school level depending on the digital infrastructure available at the schools and how many children have access to digital resources,” she says.
“We also need to augment these digital resources with physical learning materials such as textbooks and worksheets,” Ahuja adds.
She says that for the hybrid approach to work successfully, teachers need to be in regular touch with children so that they can follow up if the kids received the learning materials, whether they are attending the online classes, and address the difficulties they are facing.
But how can we have hybrid learning without digital resources?
Ahuja explains how we need to widen our range when we speak of digital resources.
“We need to start from basic feature phones, to televisions, radio, smartphones, laptops and computers. The access to these resources is fairly varied,” she says.
“The study we conducted in 2020 found that the television and radio were not being used much as platforms for learning. I think we need to plan how these resources will compliment each other, how we will also compliment these digital platforms with actual learning materials,” she says.
“One of the things Covid-19 has done for us is fastrack the pace of adopting digital. Teachers have picked up using digital tools for teaching,” she says.
“I think we should continue to build on the efforts that have already been made, identify where the gaps are and make sure we have connectivity to the last mile such as children in the tea gardens of Assam or remote areas on Chhattisgarh or any other state for that matter because digital will be the way forward in the future,” says Ahuja.
Unicef unveils ‘pandemic classroom’ on Children’s Day: How can India recover from its shocking learning loss?