By Ashok Kumar Nayak
On 24 March 2020, the Government of India ordered a nationwide lockdown for 21 days, limiting movement of the entire 1.3 billion people as a preventive measure against the spread of COVID-19 pandemic. That was the time when the number of confirmed positive coronavirus cases in India was approximately 500. The nationwide lockdown continued till 3rd May 2020 then it continuing with different relaxing and controlling measures keeping in view the spread of the pandemic. As of 23rd June, the total active cases of COVID are more than 1.78 Lakhs.
During the lockdown, all private and public services were suspended with exceptions for transportation of essential goods, fire, police, and emergency services. People are advised not to step out of the home. The whole country witnessed the unprecedented manifestation of this lockdown. Millions of workers face the loss of income, food shortages, and uncertainty about their future, resulted in many families went hungry too. According to an informal Group of Ministers report in the 3rd week of May, there are 93 million urban informal workers among the hardest hit due to this lockdown.
Another hard-hit sector is our education system. All educational institutions are remaining closed and continue to looming uncertainty for regular physical class. The lockdown has placed unprecedented challenges on governments, institutions, teachers, parents. The virtual classes emerged as a quick-fix solution for continuing education for students. India comprises over 320 million of students who are under the trap of this lockdown. It is still uncertain when they can resume their institutions for a regular classroom learning system. The country is witnessing a rapid expansion of eLearning. This virtual learning found an abrupt transition without calculating the potential of the country to adopt this e-learning system.
The impact of this lockdown is now visible across the country. There are many incidents around us regularly interact now in our daily life. One such incident I have interacted with in my neighborhood in the third week of June 2020.
One fine morning, while I was buying vegetables from my neighborhood at Kudghat, Netaji Nagar, Kolkata, I met Suman Mandal, a young boy of 20 years old, with his cycle van selling vegetables. He had placed his vegetable van little outs card of the vegetable market; it was a bit convenient for some people want to avoid crowd and rush of people that endanger COVID related health risk. He was a bit nervous as women from the temple repeatedly caution him not to stand in front of the entrance of the temple. Probably the women belong to the temple staff family member; she was impolite on her approach to the boy.
I bought my stuff from Suman, I also had a small conversation with him and came to know Suman is born and brought up in Kolkata, he is a 1st-year degree student at nearby Day College in Kolkata. He lives with his parent and younger brother. He is now perusing his study in college. Recently he is into vegetable vending as his father does not have income since COVID lockdown. His father is a meson and used to work at different construction sites. But due to lockdown, his father is running without work and wage, to support the family he started getable vending soon after the lockdown.
He does not access any online study as he does not have an android phone with an internet connection. A small conversation with Suman was so much thought-provoking on depleting livelihoods options for millions of Indians and instantly vulnerable are daily wage labour, India is having 51 million construction workers out of which only 35 million are registered under labour welfare board. Point here any relief or direct finance assistant provisions promised by govt. would not reach to 18 million unregistered workers. Moreover, there are usual operational issues are there for these category people to access the promised social security entitlements. Feeding families force the young Suman to shoulder the responsibility and unintentionally undermine his education.
The next important point is about the mindless drive for virtual education by all state and non-state including responsible International institutions is worried some. Virtual education can be an ad-hoc solution for a temporary period, but increase efforts to streamline this as part of a solution need serious rethinking.
As per Numbers from Key Indicators of Household Social Consumption on Education in India report, based on the 2017-18 National Sample Survey Rural households with a computer: 4.4%; Urban households with a computer: 23.4%; Rural households with the internet: 14.9%; Urban households with the internet: 42%. The poorest households cannot afford a smartphone or a computer. Promoting the virtual class needs serious rethinking and redesigning to create access to education for all.
The pandemic should not take out the aspiration of young Indians for a better life. We are a young nation, more than 50% of its population below the age of 25 and more than 65% below the age of 35. I hope we would be able to overcome this crisis with all thoughtful and strategic actions that can take the aspiration of millions of young boys like Suman.
Ashok Kumar Nayak