October 8, 2021 4:24:03 pm
As older children have finally started returning to classrooms with the state School Education Department allowing resumption of offline sessions for students in classes VIII to XII in urban areas and from class V onwards in rural pockets, the focus needs to shift on younger children who may have suffered one of the biggest ‘learning losses’ during the pandemic period, according to the results of a study across 650 households and involving 50 pre-school teachers in Mumbai and Pune.
Conducted between April and June this year by the Delhi-based Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy along with Akanksha Foundation and Rocket Learning, the study on Early Childhood Education (ECE) was conducted in two categories of pre-schools – balwadis (run through PPP model with municipal corporations) and pre-school grades of Akanksha schools, both catering to low-income households in Mumbai and Pune.
Among the main findings of the survey was that enrolment in virtual classes fell by 30-40 per cent, while the class size for those regularly attending and engaging in ECE in virtual classrooms fell by up to 60 per cent, compared to the class size before the pandemic. The main reason behind this trend was found to be the lack of access to smart devices or the internet, parents being unable to invest time in their child’s education due to work or other care responsibilities, and a lack of priority for ECE within households.
“For a while now, both the government as well as private organisations have been trying to study the learning loss which students have experienced due to the pandemic and the delivery of education moving virtually. However, the focus has mainly been on higher education and older school children. We have seen that ECE has been a low focus area though it is increasingly recognised as crucial to the development of children. Despite its importance, there has been little thought over the delivery of ECE during the pandemic and, in the Indian context, no systematic evidence. This report is an attempt to present evidence on the status of ECE delivery and the way forward,” said Nisha Vernekar, Lead (education), Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy.
Households were split into three groups: enrolled in balwadis and not participating in the tech programme, enrolled in balwadis and participating in the tech programme, and enrolled in Akanksha schools and participating in the tech programme.
The study found that with the shift to digital education, class sizes by enrolment and regular attendance fell considerably. For those with access to virtual classrooms, WhatsApp was the primary mode of instruction as 86 per cent of households received education on WhatsApp, while 56 per cent used platforms like Zoom or Google Meet for live classes. The familiar and low-tech platform of WhatsApp (over live lessons) was preferred by teachers and parents.
Teachers interviewed expressed concerns over using digital modes for ECE as well as over continued school closure as they were wholly reliant on parents for keeping up ECE delivery, digital modes are not always effective for ECE as many foundational concepts cannot be taught virtually, households may not have the required teaching-learning materials at home, home environments are not always conducive to learning and development, and many parents struggled with the use of technology.
Suggesting the way forward, teachers said a blended mode of learning, supplementary to classroom curriculum, could be retained even after schools reopen. For those with access to devices and the internet, tech programmes can be operationalised through the use of low-tech platforms and context friendly content. For households without access to digital education, practices – such as frequent parent-teacher interaction, teaching parents methods to engage effectively and providing non-educational support where required – can be conducted through physical modes.
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