Indian students continue to struggle with Covid-19 disruption

Over 50 pc students continue to fall behind in learning

Society

November 15, 2022

/ By / New Delhi

Indian students continue to struggle with Covid-19 disruption

The education of around 360 million students was hampered in India during the Pandemic

Many studies conducted around the world last year in aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic reported that most of the students have fallen behind in their learning due to the dramatic shift in the way education was being imparted. While the return to normal operations of schools may have led to arrest of this fall, in some countries, notably India, the drop in the ability to learn has continued, creating a worrying scenario for students, their parents and the society per se.

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Students around the world are still paying for the disruption to their education caused by the widespread closure of schools around the world as one country after another moved to prolonged lockdowns. In most countries, schools have reopened only in this academic year, after almost three years of closure.

As the schools were closed in a rush, few had imagined the impact on education and learning which took a serious beating during the entire lockdown due to various factors, most commonly due to absence of internet and computers at home for most of the students, at least in the developing countries. Even students in rich nations, notably the United States, have suffered from learning gaps due to the closure and the changes brought about by the closed schools to the way education is imparted.

But the biggest setbacks have been suffered in countries like India, which being the world’s second largest school system after China, its education system was severely impacted by the lockdowns. According to UNESCO, by the end of April 2020, 186 countries had implemented nationwide closures, affecting about 73.8 pc of the total enrolled learners.

The Digital Divide

For a country like India, online schooling is almost impossible for an overwhelming majority of children as they lack access to the Internet as well as an internet-capable device at home. Another factor was the irregular availability of electricity at homes, especially in the rural areas of the country which is home to over 67 pc of the total population. Many parents were obliged to take drastic steps to help their children get access to the internet, at huge cost to themselves and finally of little use.

Omana Chandrabose is a mother of two children, residing in Alappuzha district of Kerala. In order to help her children get access to online classes,, Omana says she had to sell her two goats to buy a smartphone so that her children could keep up with lessons. She says she did not hesitate, even though she was already heavily indebted and the goats were her only asset. “I was worried about their education, so I had to sell the goats,” Omana Chandrabose tells Media India Group.

For Omana and her family, the smartphone is a novelty. She has never been online, and so far only her children have been making use of it. Omana was certainly not the only parent to have taken a drastic step to help her children stay abreast with the new mode of learning. Internet access at home became a must for children to follow classes, prompting more low-income families to scrape together the money to buy a cheap or second-hand smartphone for the first time.

Quality internet access is a privilege and is not available to everyone.  The digital divide in India has existed for quite some time now and exacerbates existing socio-economic inequalities. People living in rural areas, low-income households and those residing in less developed states also get less reliable internet. Students from rural areas were often in a severely disadvantaged position as compared to urban students regarding this aspect. This led to a large majority of children falling behind in their education.

The gap made is too wide to overcome in the immediate future, says studies. According to a survey of 48,000 students from urban and rural districts in 22 states conducted in April 2022 by Smile India Foundation of India, an NGO, which included which mainly focused on learning loss and education recovery, less than 50 pc of children were able to catch up with their age-appropriate learning following the Covid-19 pandemic and tend to get distracted more easily.

As per its findings, teachers in schools and educational institutions state that less than 50 pc of children have been able to cope with the learning loss over the last two years and to catch up on their age-appropriate learning currently, it said.

“Some of the most common effects of the pandemic in children can be seen due to the prolonged closure of schools include inattention, clinging, distraction, and hesitancy or fear to ask questions. Such effects are seen most in children who have been unable to access the online education due to economic or social constraints, causing deep knowledge divides among students,” Rajan Joseph, Principal of Matha Senior Secondary School, Alappuzha in Kerala tells Media India Group.

The digital learning pathway adopted by school education has also been found to raise issues of socio-emotional development. Apart from the mental health issues, this new mode of learning has also increased physical health problems. Increased eyesight problems, frequent headaches and sleep disorders are some of the major physical health problems associated with exposure to prolonged screen time, say the teachers as well as doctors.

Less Social Interaction

In addition to academic learning losses and the rich-poor divide, the psychological wellbeing and development of children has also been affected due to limited socialisation during the pandemic-enforced closures. Studies show that during school closure students have experienced fear, anxiety, anger, and sadness. The distance and disconnect from peers, interaction with fellow students and teachers in class has affected social skills of children and adjusting to new methods of learning have made them more vulnerable. This has implications on the mental wellbeing of the students, say experts.

Physical interaction with professors that was replaced with virtual interaction and the lack of personalised feedback has made the learning process dull and uninteresting. Not meeting friends and to actively participate in any activities also made the situation even worse, says Akshay Ramachandran, a class 10 student from  Kottayam district in Kerala.

“Peer to peer interaction was very less and along with the pandemic came assignment submission pressure as well as exam pressure in which all of our energy was consumed. Along with the demand of university to fulfill the criteria for earning definite percentage of attendance and the continuous lengthy lectures gave much stress and pressure which only got worsened with time,’’ Gautham Shankar, a law student from Bengaluru tells Media India Group.

Changes in parental behaviour

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed not just students but also parents. The Smile Foundation survey noted that parents in India started getting more involved in their children’s education since the pandemic. It says that 50 pc of parents interviewed felt the absence of digital learning resources like devices, networks, and data packs made the learning experience inadequate for the children during the pandemic.

Even those parents who were illiterate and those who couldn’t afford smartphones or internet facilities were seen struggling to provide the basic wants during the pandemic. “I am a daily wager and I am not literate. But I always wanted the best for my children. “During the pandemic, I lost my job and it was nearly impossible to buy new smartphones for my children for their education purposes,” Tulasi Gopalakrishnan, a widow and a mother of two children who resides in Mangalore tells Media India Group.

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