Updated: August 21, 2021 7:50:00 am
Over a year and a half after Covid forced one of the longest shutdowns of India’s schools, what lies ahead as states tentatively prepare to open up? Given the digital inequity that meant several children have had very little interaction with school, what does this prolonged absence from school mean for children in terms of their foundational literacy and numeracy skills? How can administrations and educationists help children catch-up?
These were some of the questions that a panel unpacked on Friday during IE Thinc, an Express platform where experts confront some of the most pressing issues of our times.
The session, titled ‘Rebuilding Schools Post Covid’, was organised by The Indian Express in association with Central Square Foundation, an organisation working with the vision of ensuring quality school education for all children in India.
The panelists for Friday’s session included Rukmini Banerji, CEO of Pratham, the organisation that releases the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER); Atishi, MLA of the Aam Aadmi Party and one of the architects behind the transformation in Delhi’s public education; Usha Menon, founder, Jodo Gyan, a social enterprise that is part of a unique experiment in developing conceptual understanding of mathematics among children; and Ben Piper, Senior Director, Africa Education, for RTI International based in Nairobi, and Principal Investigator for Learning at Scale, a multi-country study of large-scale education programmes.
The session was moderated by Uma Vishnu, Senior Editor, The Indian Express.
Talking about the challenges as schools prepare to reopen, Atishi said, “We have been talking about the socio-economic cost of the pandemic, but we haven’t spoken about education… The pandemic has taken us back 20 years in terms of access. Even in Delhi, only about 50-60 per cent of the population have access to digital technology. Learning has been hampered on all fronts.”
Banerji, however, said she was more optimistic. “The experience of learning and schooling are deeply embedded… The last year-and-a-half, there have been many kinds of learning… We have to take advantage of the fluidity of the situation… It’s an exciting time,” she said.
The panel also spoke about potential ways in which administrations and educators could help children “catch up” after nearly two years of learning loss induced by the pandemic.
While Banerji spoke about local mohalla classes to help children regain some of their foundational literacy and numerical skills, Menon spoke about the need to create district-level exemplars to demonstrate how children can develop conceptual understanding of mathematics and other subjects.
“We should talk about how to build upon what they already know and build a new pedagogy and a new curriculum based on that. It’s easier for children to solve word problems, rather than grade-level curriculum. We should pause and think, and maybe we will find things that children really like doing. If Covid can help us to do that, I think that will be a great thing,” said Menon.
Drawing from his experience in Kenya and other sub-Saharan African countries, Piper said, “The question for me, as we come back to school, is how do we scaffold and support catch-up so that children are not missing skills… Just because skills are lost now, doesn’t mean they are lost forever.”
Banerji said simple, easy to execute, catch-up programmes can be the key.
“Just a couple of hours a day… Children respond very well to quick progress, it enthuses teachers and gives faith to the parents that all is not lost,” she said.
In his concluding remarks, Bikkrama Daulet Singh, Co-Managing Director, Central Square Foundation, stressed on foundational learning, sustaining home learning and the need to bring more accountability to private schools.
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