Ten-year-old Atul hasn’t been to school for over a year now. Letters of the alphabet are fading from this Class 4 student’s memory. His sister, Priyanka, a Class 3 girl, too, has forgotten them.
Their government-run primary school in the tribal-dominated district of Balaghat, a little over 430 kilometres southeast of Madhya Pradesh Capital Bhopal, has been shut down due to Covid.
In July, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had a much-publicised online interaction with students of a school in Vidisha district. This was meant to flag the big success of the state’s e-learning programme.
Children like Atul and Priyanka only put the spotlight on its failure, though. And they are not alone.
In Choti Khirkhani village of Katni district, over 350 kilometres east of Bhopal, Santoshi Bai said, “My son is in Class 4. We don’t have a touch phone.” Another woman cited the same reason to that her three children can’t attend online classes.
Tushar, 13, a student of a government school in Dhar, 260 kilometres southwest of Bhopal, is under immense pressure to quit studies and join his labourer father doing odd jobs like making rakhis.
Clearly, his family can’t afford a smartphone. Even if it does buy one, recharging it frequently will be a daunting task. With his father’s earnings also hit since 2020 because of the pandemic, getting Tushar to earn is a more tempting alternative to studies.
The Madhya Pradesh School Education Department has now announced it will reopen schools for Classes 9 and 10 from August 5 — although they will function only twice a week to begin with. Classes 11 and 12 reopened on July 26.
Most private schools, including missionary-run institutions, remain wary. Such limited reopening of their campuses is not economically feasible.
Meanwhile, the backlog in studies continues to build up for the students, and with devastating effect. At least some of them, like Atul and Priyanka, are already lapsing into illiteracy.
A January 201 field study by the Azim Premji Foundation, covering over 15,000 children between Classes 2 and 6 in over 1,000 schools across five states found that up to 92 per cent of the children, on average, have lost at least one specific language ability from the previous year across all classes.
Some 82 per cent have lost at least one specific mathematical ability. The reading ability of 42 per cent of the students has been affected, while the figure is 40 per cent for writing. Over 60 per cent of the children did not have access to online classes, according to the survey.
Due to Covid, over 15 lakh schools remained closed in India, according to the UNICEF’s Remote Learning Reachability Report, affecting the education of about 286 million children. Only 24 per cent of them have an internet connection in the country.
The survey conducted by Azim Premji on the “myth of online studies” found out 90% of teachers agree that online meaningful assessment is difficult, 70% of parents said that online classes are not effective for children’s learning. More than 60% of children do not have access to online classes.