NEW DELHI: In observance of the Children’s Day in India today leading up to World Children’s Day on 20 November, UNICEF India unveiled a symbolic ‘Pandemic Classroom’ installation at the amphitheatre at Select CITYWALK in Saket, New Delhi.
Empty rows of desks and chairs along with unused backpacks are set up to draw urgent attention to the plight of millions of young children who missed going to school for over a year due to the school closures through the pandemic and have consequently experienced learning loss.
Mr. Yasumasa Kimura, UNICEF Country Representative a.i. and two adolescents unveiled the pandemic classroom installation by ringing a school bell. Noted educationist, Venita Kaul, Professor Emeritus, Early Childhood Education, Ambedkar University was a key speaker at the event. UNICEF celebrity advocate, Ms. Kareena Kapoor Khan, shared her video message supporting school reopening and learning recovery.
The pandemic classroom installation will be on display for a week from 14 November (India’s Children Day) till 20 November 2021 (World Children’s Day).
The pandemic that started off as a health crisis had fast turned into a learning crisis with prolonged school closure – a major fallout of the pandemic. This had detrimental effect not only education but also on children’s physical and psychological wellbeing. Online learning became the sole resort while many children were left out due to lack of connectivity. According to UNICEF’s rapid assessment conducted in six states in 2020 – Assam, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Gujarat, and Uttar Pradesh, 76 per cent of parents of children between the ages of 5-13 years, and 80 per cent of adolescents between 14-18 years, reported learning less compared to when they were going to school.
“Each empty desk in this symbolic pandemic classroom is dedicated to the millions of children who have faced learning challenges. With each passing day, every child who misses out on learning falls further behind in their development and many may never return to school. Unfortunately, the most vulnerable are paying the heaviest price of school closures and many have forgotten to read or write,” said Mr. Yasumasa Kimura, UNICEF India Representative a.i. “The future of an entire generation is at stake. We urge parents to come together with school administrations and the government to support safe reopening of schools and learning recovery programmes to reach and benefit all children. Each of us has a role to play in improving learning recovery and opportunities for children in India.”
Through pandemic waves since last year, most schools closed and re-opened several times. Consequently nearly 247 million children could not go to school for more than a year. Approximately 1.5 million schools and 1.4 million ECD/Anganwadi centres were closed during this period. Millions of children alsomissed out on a hot cooked midday meal (school meal), which for many was the most nutritious meal of the day. The longer children are out of school, the less likely that they will return – and are at greater risk of being married off or prematurely join the workforces.
Highlighting the importance of the socio-emotional state with which children especially the younger classes, pre-primary and primary will come to school, Professor Venita Kaul said, “Many children, especially the youngest, have not had any exposure to a school and need the opportunity to start from scratch. Others may have lost out not only on skills they may have learnt but more importantly on the disposition and habits important for school learning, such as focusing on a given task, sitting at the desk for the required number of hours and building new relationships. By giving children tasks related to the skills to be learnt, not necessarily out of textbooks but out of their own home experiences, we can help children emotionally ‘get back’ to school and to begin enjoying and making sense of what they are learning.”
UNICEF Celebrity Advocate Ms.Kareena Kapoor Khan in her video message said, “Learning and education for every child is something that is very close to my heart. Now that many schools are reopening across India, we must rejoice that children are back, learning and having fun with their friends. At the same time,we must also remember some children have not been able to access remote learning or home-based education. Teachers, parents and many others have made considerable efforts to help children continue their learning, yet children may still have some catching up to do and it will happen. Let’s together join hands to give them a safe and protective environment, that helps them learn.Let’s begin by sending our children back to school, following COVID appropriate behaviours that include wearing masks, handwashing with soap and physical distancing.”