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Suraj Mandhare: ‘Focus on identifying learning loss, developing modules to help students cope’

The pandemic has led to a huge learning loss among children. The foremost focus will be to identify the learning loss and developing modules such as bridge courses to help them cope.

Suraj Mandhare (Twitter/@surmayu)

Schools across the state are set to finally resume complete normalcy as they reopen in June, post summer vacation. Pallavi Smart talks to Commissioner of Education Suraj Mandhare who has readied a plan of action for schools to help cope with the pandemic-induced loss. Excerpts from an interview:

Q) With the education sector heading to normalcy, what will be your focus?

The pandemic has led to a huge learning loss among children. The foremost focus will be to identify the learning loss and developing modules such as bridge courses to help them cope. There is no point in students heading to higher classes without completely acquiring the learning outcome expected from them from an earlier class. The plan is to gauge the learning loss in an objective manner to be able to create an effective remedy teaching module. But this will be possible only after required capacity building of teachers. We are working on creating a 20-30 minute quick course to be made available for all, including parents. This course, which will be made available in a public forum with online platforms, will be designed to give the outline on the steps to be taken. This course will be disseminated through multiple channels such as DIKSHA app, YouTube Sessions, Community Radio among all.

Q). Which other areas of school education do you think require attention with resumption of normalcy?

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The pandemic has led to several other issues too such as shortening of attention span of students, obesity, psychological needs after losing someone, including a parent, to Covid. We are working on creating various peer-learning activities to be held in schools to enhance the attention span of students who have been studying on digital devices until now. Most of the students were at home during pandemic and it has resulted in obesity and tiredness along with a few psychological issues. It is important to create targeted sports and other extracurricular activities to bring them out of the lethargy. While there could be extracurricular activities, we also plan to introduce gamification of learning by bringing in fun ways to learn in schools. The exposure to digitalisation in education can be used to make the content attractive and interactive.

Q) The midday meal scheme is severely affected, especially while resuming to normalcy post-pandemic. How do you plan to strengthen it?

Initially, dry ration was distributed to children under the midday meal scheme. With schools starting offline functioning, we are slowly resuming the old practice of serving cooked meals to children. However, the transition has suffered due to multiple reasons such as court cases, inability of vendors, shortage of fortified rice etc. But most importantly, we have now identified the problems and resolved those one at a time. By June, when schools resume complete offline operation in the new academic year, midday meal scheme will be successfully back to its original format.

Q). Recently, school education minister Varsha Gaikwad announced mandatory installation of CCTVs in schools, both private and government, in order to ensure students’ safety. What is the status? What is your plan to bring safety on school premises?

CCTV installation will be part of the school inspection checklist now. We will ensure that the minister’s directives are complied with at the earliest. While CCTV is important on school premises, we are also encouraging school administration to have character verification of all their staff. Additionally, we are training students to sense inappropriate behaviour. An effective mechanism is provided to complain against any such instance as severe action against the miscreants will be the most effective deterrent.

Q). What are your plans for Zilla Parishad (ZP) schools, which are majorly catering to underprivileged sections of the society?

Literacy becomes the basis of economic growth of any state or region. The plans need to have components which will create a conducive environment for learning and self-development. The areas under focus include basic schooling, focus on introducing Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) in middle grades, opportunities for technical and vocational learning, affordable education, robust assessment and remediation system. As per the plan for ZP schools, the focus is on foundational literacy and numeracy skills, investing in early childhood care to make kids ready to face Grade I competencies, and learning and tracking out-of-school children. It is of utmost importance for the state to ensure no child gets dropped out and those who are already out are brought back to mainstream schooling.

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