Covid-19 and catastrophe in education

We cannot as a country transit from one learning crisis to another using cancellation or postponements of exams- they are only tools of appeasement.


Representational image (PHOTO: IFP)

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a pandemic disease that affects the education system of different income level countries. The UNESCO has been recognized that the Coronavirus pandemic outbreak has impacted the Education system in the world. The Education system has been affected by several challenges, ranging from changes in the education curriculum to closing down the education system. As UNESCO reports that 87 per cent of the World’s students population is affected by Covid-19 school closure. It impacts not only students but also it affects teachers, parents across the world. It affects all over the education system, examinations, evaluation and starting of new semester or term and it may extend the school year too. The past year has been a watershed as far as the lives of our children are concerned. Whenever we hear adults speak of their difficulties and challenges, many people wonder if they realize how their child, more so the adolescent is managing to cope. The difference is phenomenal as the emotional compass of child is still evolving.

A child’s life is not a package of deal. It has within it the sounds sights, colors, fragrance and experiences of the growing up years. Every year is a milestone in learning. The continued uncertainty, the alienation from normalcy, the lack of real time peer connections, the stranglehold of adults on the lives of children have been compounded by the learning world turning upside down. The productive potential of an entire generation has been reduced. Public outcry, signature campaigns of students and parents, PILs and doctors opinion’s on the spike  have created increase anxiety and pressure, resulting the cancellation of class X Board’s examination and postponement of the class XII Board examination as well as postponement of semesters exams of almost all the universities in India. This was followed by an immediate backlash with the same players protesting the decision.

Classes for pre-nursery, nursery and up to VIII standard has not been conducting for the last more than one year. Our system is not built to deal with education shutdown, cancellations and postponements- that is a clear indication of our highly competitive attitude as gate keepers of reward and punishment. There is a larger tragedy that is playing out beyond the board examinations for the 25,000- odd schools affiliated with the CBSE. It is time that educators and policymakers realized the effect of schools closure on more than 1.5 million schools across the nation: learning gaps have affected the most vulnerable and marginalized children across the country. Distance learning solutions are containing platforms, educational platforms and resources that aimed to help parents, students and teachers.  Digital learning management system, massive open online courses platforms are self-directed learning content. However due to lack of internet connectivity, information technology, educational materials and digital technology skill, distance learning is difficult for teachers, students and families in developing countries and remote areas of our nation and states, Some developing countries deliver classes through radio, TV and online platforms. However, the poorest families and students do not have radio, TV and other devices to access the resources and to learn at their home. In fact millions of them have had no access to learning due to lack of devices, connectivity or teacher support. How are they going to cope with an examination system for which they are not prepared?

For a large group of students at the University and schools levels, online exams have moved to be a disaster. High-stake examinations require connectivity and proctoring, which is absent. Even before the pandemic, there were attempts to recalibrate systems that have become completely outdated. This is an opportunity to re-imagine and modernize learning. There is no time to lose because there is no certainty on what the situation will be in March 2022. We cannot as a country transit from one learning crisis to another using cancellation or postponements of exams- they are only tools of appeasement.

The children who will be giving boards exams this year have had to learn a lot, often on their own. They have been taught in a draconian system to crack and pass examinations rather learn for the sake of learning. If a new system of assessment is to be designed that cannot apply to the current batch but would have to be introducing for one or two batches down the line. We need to find means of assessment that are fair, robust and remove dependency on time-tabled exams. Changing how we transact content in classrooms and from questions that encourage a student to think requires a competence based learning approach to be embedded in the system. Creativity and ability to be resilient will be the most in-demand skills. They cannot be ascertained when we mine the minds of children for three hours of predictable scores. There has to be a bridge between higher education institutions and schools to ensure a seamless movement into tertiary learning. Papers for entrance to university and professional examinations need to be reviewed and reset to dovetail into the new learning of this century. Millions of children may remain without brick-and- mortar schools for some time to come. Virtual curricula may focus solely on literacy and numeracy rather than engage with the experimental. They may not encourage inquiry –based learning, integration of arts and sports and embedding of social and emotional learning in the curriculum. The method of examination needs to be revisited along with the content of classroom learning. We must initiate and integrated curriculum that enables students to address their uncertain future with imagination, creativity and purpose and encourage them to move towards individual and collective wellbeing. 

The lesson plans in every classroom from nursery to class XII should be woven in a manner that emphasizes certain key necessities: Transverse competencies, cultural competencies, institution and self-expression, a focus on taking care of oneself and managing the requirement of daily life. Creating competence in both technology and work and building skills required for the future should be the guiding principle for such plans. The rubrics of assessment have to be holistic across subjects. A system of moderated teacher assessment throughout the term will create a different climate, giving students incentive to keep working through any disruption to their schooling. What does the pandemic mean to education in the long term? It is an opportunity to deconstruct the National Education Policy at the grassroots and urban levels. The NCERT, the National Institute of Educational planning and Administration and other agencies have been working on textbooks and learning protocols to initiate the process. Such efforts require greater urgency. To thrive in a globalized world, using 21st century skills, learning must attain well-being and happiness and create opportunities to contribute to humanity. The students will get their voice only when learning moves from contextual to the conceptual. Hopefully, the debate on the cancellation and postponement of the board exams has helped us take critical look at the inequity in our system and motivate policymakers and educators to build a more equitably and resilient educational system for the future- that future is already here.

(The views expressed are the writer's own)
 

First Published:May 7, 2021, 8:43 p.m.

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