THE PHENOMENON OF LEARNING LOSS AND THE PANDEMIC
If one thing is evident, it is the fact that the pandemic has surely brought education to a standstill. In a country where the majority of the population is in rural areas and of lower-income background, the pandemic has stressed the idea that education for a large part has become inconsequential. The movement of labourers to the villages, the removal of students from schools due to lack of funds and such is a result of the poorly managed system that fails to cater to the inadvertent changes of a pandemic. Even after a year, we still seemed to have not learnt a single thing and things are being carried on as per usual.
THE STATE OF AFFAIRS
The year 2020 saw the learning loss of around 260 million children directly as a result of the pandemic. Now that most classes take place online or out in the open, the schools have remained largely shut for more than a year. In a country that lacks proper electricity and internet connection, the efficacy of online education is a far fetched idea. The innate failure of the system to adequately provide avenues to substitute education in the pandemic has left millions of children stranded mid-terms and there seem to be very few alternatives. The “mohalla” system wherein children are being taught in the open is one of the many ways schools in rural areas have coped with the pandemic. Yet with the increasing cases and the death toll, parents too are unwilling to risk infection as it would inevitably hamper the functioning of the whole family. There is an alarming rate of academic regression, more so with the second wave which saw many NGOs and institutes close down their centres for the second time. The problem is not just in the rural areas, the families that can afford online education find that this mode of learning is largely ineffective. The lack of interpersonal interactions and remote educational services do not seem to be working the way they would in any normal scenario.
A study suggested that around 92% of children have lost at least one language ability and around 82% have lost out on mathematical skills from the previous year and the statistics are across all classes. There is a widespread phenomenon of forgetting the previous year’s lessons and this regression in learning can have cumulative implications going ahead. It is the children from disadvantaged backgrounds that have been impacted the most as the avenues for education have all shut and there is little that could be done to substitute the same. The impact is predominant in foundational numerical knowledge and language and it is this particular age group that sees the massive regression that could well impact their adult lives. The general lack of schooling coupled with the financial pressures due to the pandemic has impacted the lower-income communities and we’re witnessing a large number of children leaving school in 2020.
WHAT CAN BE DONE? The lockdown has brought immense pressure on the educational bodies across the countries to combat this rampant issue. There are however ways in which this course of regression can be corrected. It involves inclusivity and cohesion in policy and execution pan-India and adequate strategy and communication with the various educational authorities of each state. There is a necessity for a more aggressive approach in teaching that is more technology-oriented which could benefit in revolutionising the education system as a whole. Once the school reopens, the focus should be put on foundational learning and assessments which help gauge the level of understanding the students have attained during the pandemic. A “teach-at-the-right-level” approach wherein the students are taught as per their level of knowledge can be another effective method of ensuring children’s progress. A sustainable, innovation-oriented proactive method of education is the only way in which the learning loss of 2020 can be effectively combated. A mediating influence with the schools and the households along with incentives and waivers can be a welcome impetus for harbouring education and fight the learning loss. The keywords for combating this phenomenon are access and equity, it is important that all bodies understand the problem at hand and effectively respond to the crisis. With the second wave rampantly wrecking havoc, direct teaching is highly unlikely anytime soon. In the meantime supplemental support through extended hours, bridge courses, complimentary courses and foundational learning focus and alternative methods of assessments could work in favour of making the best of the situation.
There are various ways the present predicament can be solved. It involves coordinated efforts from all levels of governance and departments. The learning loss among children will only grow if this is not addressed at the earliest. This phenomenon is not just in public schools but also in universities and colleges in India as despite the provision for online education is made available, there has been very little in the way of learning that has occurred this academic year. The hope is that this pandemic remains an obstacle that is conquerable and not an irreversible damage to the children's abilities. These are unusual circumstances and the consequences are large, yet it is upon the authorities to do the right thing in the hope that these children have a future.
Important Study on the matter of learning loss in India: https://azimpremjiuniversity.edu.in/SitePages/pdf/Field_Studies_Loss_of_Learning_during_the_Pandemic.pdf