Students are not able to recall whatever was taught to them in schools during the pre-Covid era and their books remain intact.
Bengaluru: Ganesha, a seven years old child took at least two minutes to recall the word written in his second standard English book, then he recognized and mumbled ‘motorbike’ in My House Chapter. However, he did not recall a single mathematical equation and how it is done. He studies in a government lower primary school, Devagere Bangalore South.
His mother, Indira Bhimrao sat near him to make him understand every question in Kannada, said, “I make both my children study every day if I don’t have any daily wage work to go to. They play and study also whenever I am not at home and have gone to work.”
Ganesha is the middle child of his parents. His parents are daily wage workers. His family lives in a small rented house on the first floor of a building in front of his school. His elder brother studies in a different government school, however, his younger sister studies in the same government primary school in Devagere.
“A complete academic year has gone without no or very little circular learning due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” states a study conducted by Azim Premji University. The study was published in English, Kannada, and Hindi language. It was conducted in five states, namely Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, and Rajasthan out of 29 states in India, relatively less. It covered 16,067 children in 1,137 public schools and covered 44 districts across five states.
“Around 92 percent of the students have lost their ability to do one specific language from the previous class in 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th standard specifically,” the study concluded. Similarly, 82 percent of the students have lost their ability to do mathematical exercises.
The school teachers are having a hard time finding out a solution to this problem. An assistant teacher in the same school, Government lower primary school, Devagere Bangalore South, where Ganesha studies said, “It will be tough for us to retain whatever a child has forgotten.” Students are studying online due to the closure of the schools under the Covid-19 curbs issued by the state government.
The study also states that a second-standard student learns to answer questions that are based on comprehensive stories. Now when Ganesha could not recall a word from the ‘My House’ chapter, how will he be able to answer questions that need a basic understanding of reading and writing. “To overcome this situation, we will have to provide them bridge courses before promoting them to another class,” the assistant teacher said.
To avoid this situation, similarly, the government had launched several programs in the last year like Shiksha Mitra, classes through the Doordarshan channel on Television for primary school students. But these programs failed. Under Shiksha Mitra apps need to be installed on smartphones. But in India only 50 percent of people own smartphones.
“The parents who send their children to government schools go for daily wage jobs, hence can’t afford a smartphone,” said the assistant teacher. Online education has caused digital disparity among students. “Even the Doordarshan program was not successful as parents don’t have television installed in their homes,” he said.
Ganesha, however, has a television from the 90s installed at his house on which he was watching cartoons. “We don’t know about the Doordarshan program, nobody told us about that,” his mother Indira said.
“There is a communication gap when it comes to the education sector. If the government launches an application or a program, students and their parents only have one source, teachers, to know about it,” said Shanta Sharan, an educationist for almost 25 years. Amid the pandemic, however, it has become difficult for teachers to communicate with parents and students, adding to the already existing communication gap. She believes that awareness about TV programs like Doordarshan has to be widely circulated and should be done repeatedly so it reaches the students and their parents timely.
The study also states that students who were in the first standard during the 2019-20 session will be promoted to the third standard without having engaged with the curriculum of class 2.
Shabbir, similarly, who took admission in the fifth standard in April 2020, was not able to recognize anything from his English notebook. His mother, Asma said that he and his younger brother did not study anything in the previous year and they both spent the whole year playing. He took more than three to four minutes to recall tables, and solve four multiplied by nine equations in his notebook. In March 2020, he passed the fourth standard and was promoted to the fifth standard.
His parents, however, could not afford his and his brothers’ education after the month of May. They both go to a private school, Sri Sajjan Rao Vidya Samsthe (R), nearby their house. His mother is a housewife and his father is an auto-rickshaw driver. “We cannot afford our children’s education, during the crises, we also had to pay rent for our house, my husband barely had anything on his hand during the lockdown,” said Asma.
The study suggests that there is a need for a plan to overcome the loss of learning abilities among students.
TK Manjula, a Headmistress in Nisarga Public School, similarly, has worked out a plan for her school. She said that since they have to complete the syllabus in less than a year, they will cancel all the holidays in the new session. Such as 15 days holiday for Dussehra and the New Year respectively. The school provides education to students from Pre- nursery standard to the 10th standard.
For the sixth standard, currently, they planned to only finish five to six chapters and conduct exams by the end of June 2021. But she is worried for first to fifth-standard students, even though they are sending lessons online to their students, but parents are illiterate, and whether students are studying at home or not is a worrisome concern.
Mental health and Nutrition
“Apart from learning, closure of schools will have a long-lasting effect on health, nutrition, social, and mental health of children,” said Anubhuti Rathore, child psychologist, while talking about the repercussions of Covid-19 on the mental health of school-going children.
A research, however, is still not conducted on how a child’s development will be affected in the future. “But we can firmly say that inaccessibility to open spaces with peers will have its repercussions to the overall growth of a child,” she said. “Pandemic is not over; we all need to adapt and move forward. Managing anger and understanding the social-emotional needs of a child will be crucial as a parent,” she added.
Pallavi Sood, a child counselor, who is counseling parents and students through zoom calls nowadays, said that the digital disparity caused due to the pandemic is creating a negative impact on students, not just on their academic skills but social and emotional, language, cognitive, and motor milestones as well.
“Strengthening experimental learning is the key to curb the loss of learning abilities,” she suggested.
A recent report by UNESCO warned that around 24 million learners will drop out after the pandemic. In Ganesha’s school, two siblings, Kavitha M (3rd standard), and Yalamma M (4th standard) have left the village and gone back to their native place and have not come back.
The school already had less than 20 students in total for the first to fifth standards. “I am not sure if these two girls are coming back to the village and attending school,” fears assistant teacher of Ganesha’s school in Devagere.
An official from the department of education, Karnataka, Shashikala NK said that the government launched several programs apart from Shiksha Mitra and Doordarshan programs. They asked teachers to go to villages and gather students at one place and teach them, to overcome this issue, but this also failed.
Talking about the next academic year, Shanta Sharan said, “This year is also not going to be successful again, as far as teaching and learning is concerned. Adults may be able to cope up with the online education but primary school students, and teenagers are losing their interest in studies.”
The schools are promoting students to the next class, though they have not learned anything in the previous class. “There is no other option than to promote the students to the next class,” said Dr. Usha Devi, a retired professor, and an educationist, while explaining the government policies in education. The world is going through a pandemic for the past year, and everything has gone online from work to education. It is true that some families cannot afford online education, however, keeping the primary school students in the same class will make the current situation worse for everyone, teachers, students, and their parents. “Thus, the schools have no option but to continue the elementary education with whatever a student has learned in the past year,” she added.
She further said that promoting to the next class with forgetting whatever was learned in the previous year will not have much effect on a primary school student as compared to a secondary or a higher secondary school student.
The teachers, however, are making all efforts to bridge the gap in interaction with students caused due to the lockdown and the consecutive closure of the schools. “Nothing else can be done, either from students’ side or from teachers’ side in the current situation,” Dr. Devi added.