Schools must relax detention norms in order to prevent drop-outs in a year when COVID-19 has disrupted the teaching and learning process, according to an Education Ministry directive issued on Sunday.
The Ministry also told States to conduct comprehensive door-to-door surveys to identify children out of school, and migrant students, and prepare an action plan to prevent increased drop-outs, lower enrolments, loss of learning and deterioration in the gains made in providing universal access, quality and equity in recent years.
Schools shut down in mid-March 2020, just before the COVID-19 lockdown. Some States have started reopening physical classes for high school students over the last two months, but most of India’s 25 crore students have spent the last 10 months at home. While some have access to online classes, the majority are making do with televised classes, WhatsApp teaching, and learning on their own. Globally, the United Nations had estimated that almost 24 million school age children are at risk to drop-out from the educational system due to COVID-19 this year.
Guidelines have been prepared “in order to ensure that school going children have access to education with quality and equity and to minimize the impact of the pandemic on school education across the country,” said the statement.
To determine the scope of the problem, the Education Ministry directed States to identify out-of-school children in the 6 to 18 years age group through a comprehensive door-to-door survey. Awareness and enrolment drives would then need to be conducted to ensure that such children return to the school system, it said.
As schools slowly reopen for physical classes, students may need bridge courses to adjust to the school environment, and remedial learning programmes to mitigate learning loss and inequality, said the Ministry. Identifying students across different grades based on their learning levels, and relaxing detention norms to prevent drop-out this year, have also been recommended. Awareness on COVID-19-appropriate behaviours such as wearing a mask, maintaining a six-foot distance, and hand-washing with soap, are also needed.
For those who are still studying from home, targeted home visits, counselling and distribution of worksheets and other supplementary material to support home-based education are needed. Easy and timely access to uniforms, textbooks and mid-day meals are also needed to prevent drop-outs.
The Ministry guidelines mention the need to increase the access to online and digital resources, as well as televisions and radios, but also said that classes in small groups at classrooms-on-wheels had to be explored as the pandemic abates in many areas.
For children who cannot go to school, the Ministry also offered guidelines for the continuation of non-residential training through volunteers, local teachers and community participation. Children with special needs must also receive home-based educational support — and financial support for girl children with special needs — through volunteers and special educators, it said.