Survey details ‘catastrophic’ impact of school closures across India

37% of rural children have dropped out, says report of study on 15 States

Updated - September 06, 2021 01:19 pm IST

Published - September 06, 2021 12:05 pm IST - NEW DELHI

A teacher gives a lesson inside a classroom at a government school, in New Delhi. Photo used for representation purpose only.

A teacher gives a lesson inside a classroom at a government school, in New Delhi. Photo used for representation purpose only.

The prolonged closure of primary and upper primary schools during the pandemic months has led to “catastrophic consequences” for school students, particularly in rural India, says an emergency report.

Based on the School Children’s Online and Offline Learning (SCHOOL) survey conducted by researchers, who worked in coordination with eminent economist Jean Dreze, the ‘Emergency Report on School Education’ says that only 8% of school students in rural India have been able to access online education, while at least 37% have stopped studying altogether.

Online limitations

“The SCHOOL survey makes it clear that the reach of online education is very limited: the proportion of school children who were studying online “regularly” was just 24% and 8% in urban and rural areas respectively. One reason for this is that many sample households (about half in rural areas) have no smartphone,” found the survey that was conducted by around 100 volunteers across India.

The report covered 1,362 sample households spread across 15 States including Assam, Bihar, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.

The survey also found that the Dalit and Adivasi children were at a greater disadvantage as a mere 5% of the children from these groups had access to online classes.

According to the findings, access to online education among students in those houses with smartphones is also handicapped by the fact that the smartphones are mainly used by the working adults who are not always able to share the gadgets with the school going children at home.

No access to teachers

Another casualty of the prolonged closure of schools has been the relation between the teachers and students in both urban and rural sectors with 51% of the respondents in the urban areas and 58% in rural India saying that they had not met teachers during the month preceding the survey. Researchers also found that there have been many teachers who went out of their comfort zones to help students during the 17 month closure of schools.

In addition to education, the closure most importantly affected the level of nutrition among the children in rural schools where the mid day meals have been stopped.

“Midday meals have been discontinued in all the sample States with the closure of schools. Among parents with a child enrolled in a government school, about 80% reported receiving some food (mainly rice or wheat) during the preceding 3 months as a substitute for their child’s midday meals,” stated the report about the condition of midday meals in the surveyed States.

Parents for resumption

Most parents surveyed have supported reopening of the schools at the earliest. Ten percent of the parents in urban areas had some hesitation in sending their children to school but overall 97% of parents supported reopening of schools. The report said the prolonged school lockdown, one of the longest in the world, has led to a “colossal disaster”.

“It will take years of patient work to repair this damage. Reopening schools is just the first step, still being debated. In fact, even preparations for that first step (such as repairing school buildings, issuing safety guidelines, training teachers, enrolment drives) are virtually invisible in many States,” said the researchers.

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