Lack of Comprehensive Approach Will Deepen Education Inequality, Says Report

It cannot be “return to school” as usual following their reopening and lack of a comprehensive approach will deepen the existing education inequality, according to a new report by the National Coalition on the Education Emergency (NCEE). The report — “A Future at Stake Guidelines and Principles to Resume and Renew Education” — unveiled on Tuesday made a set of recommendations to help with reopening of schools at a time when India’s 250 million children are returning to schools after 18 months amid devastating learning loss.

Development economist Jean Dreze said the National Education Policy 2020 includes a commitment to simplifying the curriculum and this is a good time to do it. ”An overwhelming majority of India’s 250 million children who are now returning to schools had no regular contact with teachers or structured learning opportunities during the pandemic, leading to an education emergency of incalculable proportions.

“Yet, state governments are re-opening schools as if nothing serious occurred, students have been moved up by two grades and the normal syllabus is being followed, often after a short remedial course to bring them up to grade level,” the report said. The report recommended focusing the education recovery effort on language and mathematics competencies and adopting a socio-emotional development approach. “This will allow students to make progress across multiple subjects. It means adjustment to the syllabus and timetable to give adequate time to these curricular areas,” it added.

The report also highlighted the loss of the most basic language and mathematics skills among children of the rural and urban poor, Dalits, Adivasis, minorities and migrant labourers, leading to millions of drop-outs. ”We have terribly wronged our children,” said Shantha Sinha, former head of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights.

“For 18 months the entire education system has been inactive. Online education has been a disaster. Children have lost the habit of reading and writing. Treating our children’s return to school as business-as-usual would be an irreparable loss to them and their lives and puts India’s future at stake”.

According to Sajitha Bashir, former global adviser for education in the World Bank and member of the NCEE core, countries across the world are modifying the curriculum and teaching methods to enable children to re-engage with education, focusing on core competencies and providing extra resources and budgets, instructional time and effort to help the disadvantaged.

The guidelines recommended a comprehensive set of actions covering regular coaching and mentoring of teachers; provision of additional learning materials for the re-organized curriculum and back-to-school enrolment drives. It also suggested actions covering health and nutrition for children; regular and simple two-way communications with parents, school management committee members, teachers, local authorities and other primary stakeholders as well as proactive management through district education emergency units and additional funds.

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