Quality elementary education for all during COVID19: Governments need to address challenges

Bhubaneswar: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, access and equity, which are foundations of quality education systems, are being confronted across the country. Our greatest worry is that differences in parental involvement and lack of digital access compound inequality. While digital education has mostly remained unsuccessful and unviable, governments must address the challenges. If children are struggling to access their education, the quality of education cannot be ensured. Therefore, the governments need to address these challenges, said panellists during a National Webinar on “Status of Quality Elementary Education in India during covid19: Challenges and Opportunities”.

The webinar was jointly organised by Atmashakti Trust, Sonbhadra Vikas Sangathan, UP, Jan Adhikar Kendra, Bihar, Dalit Adhikar Sangathan, Chhatisgarh, Ideal Youth, Health and Welfare Society, Delhi, Odisha Shramajeebee Mancha and Mahila Shramajeebee Mancha, Odisha and more than 150 participants from the Civil societies, RTE Forum, Sangathan members and education activists across the country attended and discussed on the quality aspects of elementary education.

Speaking on the webinar, Dr Ramakant Rai, Country Convener, National Coalition for Education said “quality elementary education for all children cannot be ensured in a situation when 32.2 million children in our country are out of school, according to the 75th round survey of National Sample Survey Organization. Though the government is launching online education to bridge the learning gap, this is not viable in our country where only 15% of the people have access to the internet. While stating the NITI Ayog report, Dr Rai said “the government is only concerned about educational output, without a single mention of the input invested to achieve this. Further, the National Education Policy has smashed away the RTE Act. We must save education from being privatised as education is much more than learning”.

“Challenges were already existing on school education in our country and COVID 19 has posed additional challenges to it. However, Atmashakti Trust is doing a commendable job by initiating this discourse when all of our discussions have shifted to technology, Digital Education or to the National Education Policy”, said Dr Sanjeev Rai, an educationist and Adjunct Professor in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.
“Housala, Himmat and Hoonar are the three major components which we should embrace to impart quality in education,” added Dr Rai.

Mr Induprakash Singh from City Makers Mission International and Mr Dayaram, Secretary of the non-profit ASPIRE who also joined as speakers, highlighted on the ensuring role of the standing committee on education in Gram Panchayat level which is being ignored by the machinery, need for collective action and building up grassroots movement to persuade and influence government action in this regard.

Ms Jharna Morei of Sargipalli village in Sambalpur, Odisha is a member of Mahila Sangram Samiti, a people’s collective that works in the district on the range of issues including education. Ms Morei shared, “COVID19 has disrupted the education of the children in our areas who mainly depend on government school for their education. Many children have forgotten the subjects they had learnt before the closure of the school. As the shut down of school has been more than 5 months, now a class-VIII child is not able to catch up the class-V subjects. If this shutdown continues to persist for long, the children will be pushed at the periphery of education”.
“The Odisha government’s Siksha Samparka Yojana, where teachers will visit villages to teach students, have also not yet implemented. Though our Sangathan members have started remedial classes for the low performing students, we need that government must take immediate measures to address the issue with a priority,” Ms Morei said.

Devendra Baghel, a social activist from Chhatisgarh said that the digital divide has posed a challenge for children of rural areas in Chhatisgarh to have access to learning. To bridge the learning gap, remedial classes must be initiated. Mr Maheswar, an SMC member from Sonbhadra, Uttar Pradesh also lamented on the failing state of public education in the state.

The loss of learning also pose threat to extend beyond this generation and efface decades of advancement. The education disruption has had and will continue to have, substantial effects on the disadvantaged children. Not only their learning but the closure of schools will also deprive them of getting essential services including access to nutritious food, affect the ability of many parents to work and increase risks of violence against women and girls, said experts while urging that government needs to address challenges immediately.

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