We all looked forward to the two-month break between classes when we were kids. While we recognise the respite from deadlines, tests, and other obligations. It was the re-opening that both the children and parents look forward to. This is known as the ‘summer slide’ and it takes a pupil to continue and calibrate their mind to absorb coursework as previously. Typically defined as the tendency for kids, particularly those from low-income homes, to lose some of their prior school year’s success gains. Now, consider a longer summer holiday, possibly six months off from school, followed by two years of unanticipated remote learning.
The outbreak of the virus that eventually ended up being a pandemic forced the closure of all public spaces. Hundreds of educational institutions were compelled to close without notice. Pandemics have their own steep learning curve in their early phases. At first, there was fear, then uncertainty, and then, the unavoidable grief. But the opportunity cost of this grief processing and reality-accepting was the enormous amount of school hours lost.
What is the collateral damage of closed schools in India? There are briefly two aspects to it- Academic and Emotional.
The Indian Education system’s framework is designed to be best suited for in-person classes with the strong backing of theoretical concepts by the faculty. Beyond losing time, Indian students had to wait longer for the transition to the online mode of teaching from the traditional school models. It took an average of 6 months for schools to gain an understanding of how an online school infrastructure would have to be formed and function. While at it, this shift became an enormous blockage in the education of around 6 million kids who were displaced out of school into labour due to the lack of access to online education. Systematically, the main reason for this growing catastrophe is due to the deteriorating economic conditions at home. The earning members of the family are labourers, construction workers, and contract-based employees who run on daily, weekly wages. In such cases where survival is difficult, the scope for a better future was inevitably compensated.
The Indian school education system is one of the largest in the world with more than 1.5 million schools, of which almost two-thirds are government-run.
Accessibility: Government schools are home to kids from economically-challenged backgrounds. Considering more than 90% of the parents are daily wage workers, farmers, and physical Labourers, the closing of all business activity made it hard enough for day-to-day survival let alone education, which in this case is not regarded as an ‘essential’ activity to have been involved. Not having access to a phone with a good internet connection in itself restricted education for millions.
Accountability: Accountability is a two-way street. The batch of 2020 was promoted to the next grade, graduating even without writing the Board exam. Are we looking at a long term-impact of unsupervised, unassessed students being in places they’re under-prepared to be?
What are the skills and qualifications that one has missed out on due to them being promoted to the successive grade without an assessment?
To begin with, there are no instruments available to both detect and assess the impact of this lack of evaluation tools. The National Education Policy guides the implementation of India’s educational system. It was first framed in 1986, then revised in 1992 and most recently in 2020. The pandemic course had certainly tested a student’s ability to acquire, annotate, and evaluate material. Even though every potential area has borne its fair share of effects, the education sector is now experiencing the start of a decade-long demonstration of how costly it is to fail to address contingencies. Early childhood care and education (ECCE), also known as basic learning, is the focus of the NEP.
Through kinesthetic, Montessori techniques of learning, a greater emphasis is placed on early-stage learning.
It is important to emphasise that the NEP will serve as the foundation for the education of about 196 million children, with 146 million children living in rural areas and hailing from hugely socioeconomically disadvantaged circumstances.
The ECCE programme has devised a 6-month-1-year certificate and diploma curriculum to train local teachers in this subject. This will be accomplished through remote digital learning. Once again, a loophole has been overlooked. The ‘teachers” lack of proper vocational, in-person training is frequently neglected. Why is the need for teachers to be empowered abandoned in the drive to empower students?
The percentage of internet access at home at 8.5% in India. Cutting off access to education to 91.5% of the students. For a solution to emerge, there needs to be a problem to define. In this case, the loophole in our education system is a problem. But sadly for the 91.5% of students the very root of it, that is access to education itself is cut.
Assessment: Teachers have heavily suffered in the online model for the lack of accuracy in a student’s performance due to unsupervised assessments.
Zooming out from the NEP and addressing COVID Learning, teachers were not provided with technical assistance to navigate both remote teaching and assessment.
Mrs R, a government school teacher in Chennai, a metropolitan city in Southern India would voice-record her lessons line-line for her students and post assignments through WhatsApp. The response rate from the students was close to zero. Mrs R claims that her case was an exception as she turned to teach as a part of her coping mechanism. This implied that almost all the other teachers didn’t do the same, YouTube videos were merely sent with a reciprocated acknowledgement. In the absence of checks for understanding, the growing stack of lessons only gradually became obsolete.
Of course, live exams with multiple invigilators to ensure fair practice were allotted but there is only so much one can observe from behind a screen.
What if the mode of evaluation changes?
Making assessments fun. How do we make taking tests interesting? The pandemic paved the way for teachers to be extremely creative with teaching.
Meme based question papers, virtual affirmations on a good performance, peer assignments and projects to ensure students are still in touch with their classmates.
Curriculum: Every student’s plea has always been the level of relevance of school’s learning outside in the real world. Having an outdated curriculum where relevant life skills, soft skills, and vocational training are only extra-curricular in privately funded schools keeps millions of students at a disadvantage. The NEP draws ample significance to vocational, skill-based and analytical training. However, it is necessary to understand the need for both academic and emotional processing for kids. One can shift to a completely new education system if they are part of the new generation of students. But, our educators are used to an older system. Are we teaching our kids enough about management, self-defence, and monetizing skills?
How are we democratising ‘educator training’ where we fundamentally increase the value of a teacher in the social structure ladder? That’s where we can bank on the virtues of capitalism and reap more resources, respect and recognition.
Suggestive measures to restructure the portrayal of a teacher would be:
a. Recognising that teaching goes beyond the subject matter. Settling into the role of an ‘educator’ than just a teacher.
b. Encouraging curiosity and learner based-teaching methods and mode of evaluation.
c. Skill training, vocational and technical training to teachers in fragmented parts of the country to enable adaptation of newer, updated teaching modules.
d. Contributing to the curation of the curriculum. Each state can focus on emphasizing state-specific economy, judicial systems, and historical significance to empower students in understanding day-day decision making done by their leaders in power.
e. Practicing student-specific evaluation methods.
f. Funding and incentivising practical learning and employable topics in subjects.
Any change big or small needs ‘transition architecture’. The role of decision-makers is to negotiate and find a middle ground that enables relevancy to the new ideas by not completely negating the benefits of an older system.
More on the changing demographics of Indian educators, soon on our Dialouges&Discussions column.