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The story of Schools, children and the covid lockdown

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With Schools going to resume Students are crying out for Covid's infidelity' in their reaction on social media.

By: Dr. Ashaq Hussain

Sometimes happiness, sometimes sorrow, sometimes supplication, sometimes despair- this fluctuation is not about the relationship of two friends, nor about two lovers or parents and children, but about the color of students and educational institutions in between, the thriving relationship due to the corona virus and lockdown. It is not difficult to understand why the mood of these school and college children changes with a statement made on lockdown. The latest example of this can be seen even today when the administration made an important announcement regarding the opening of schools and other educational institutions.  While the education system across the UT has been affected by the global Corona virus epidemic, the lockdown announcement is emerging as a hero and sometimes as a villain for children.

However, without hoping much, only time will tell whether Covid will become a hero or a villain for the children with this recent decision of opening of schools but one thing is clear, this announcement has increased interest in news regarding children, educational institutions and ofcourse about teachers.  One student shared a photo on facebook saying that they are already telling their parents that the schools should be opened but “I will give in writing, no one will come”. But the parents of these children are happy that their education will now return to normal. Memes on social media show parents sharing sweets after announcement of opening of schools as atleast they will be able to keep their kids away for about 4-6 hours. Some parents are finally welcoming decision to open a school as closure of schools is one of the most stressful times for parents while depositing huge fees to schools for free or for no education. However, some parents are still worried about their children’s health. What so ever be the reactions with  announcement regarding the resumption of classes in all educational institutions it is now clear that unlike last year, this year children will not be able to go to the next class without examinations or with online examinations.

The process of unlocking educational institutions due to Corona has now started. While the Corona epidemic has taken the world by storm, it has kept children out of school for a long time, which has a profound effect not only on education but also on psychology. After a long wait, schooling is now being resumed. In fact this is the largest disruption to education in history. In this situation, when I look around and think about how badly our children and our young generation are being affected by this epidemic, it is very saddening. By referring to the online education we may be deceiving ourselves and the public that despite the closure of schools, colleges and universities, we have not allowed the educational process to be affected. This self-deception is far from the truth. The experience of online education is brand new to us. Teachers are not aware of its nuances and students do not understand its nuances. Teachers and students did not receive online education training. Then it needs a smart phone, laptop, internet, etc. Putting all these things together, it is possible to estimate how many students received online education and what percentage of the total number benefited from it. You leave the quality of education aside. We have come to believe that all students have access to the machining or technical facilities that are available online which is far from reality. No one thinks that not all students are sitting in big cities. Institutions were closed, hostels closed and students went to their homes without caring of the basic requirements needed for online education.

Some of these students are sitting in a town with all required facilities, someone in a village with limited facilities and some others in far flung areas or in the mountain ranges with no online mode. Many teachers also suffer from the same problems. The fact is that even in big cities, internet services are not very good. In remote areas, these facilities are almost non-existent. And even if they are, they are ineffective. A full PhD dissertation can be written on various aspects of online education, its actual results and its impact. Although in such situation online education was the only available option, but it neither was nor it is or will be a viable alternative to formal classroom education. We can definitely use it and we are using it to our advantage.  If we look on the online education of children in rural schools where an estimated 70% of children are enrolled and are generally run by the government. We are all well aware of their plight. Ever since the Corona epidemic broke out and educational institutions closed, 70% of these students have lost touch with education. No arrangements for their so called online education are possible, nor are their parents educated enough to keep their children attached to books at home. Unfortunately, this is not a problem for us. We don’t even mention it.

Even those students who were connected with online education were unable to learn practical work through online learning modalities which is compulsory component of education especially for science and engineering students. Education and skill-development are dependent on each other. It is difficult to imagine students learning physics and chemistry outside of laboratories. Similarly, an engineer cannot simply have the knowledge of combustion engine without the skill to design and operate it. They can only learn and assess knowledge component in online mode. Due to lack of immediate feedback, teachers are unable to assess the student’s understanding during online lecturing. The students also report limited attention span and resource intensive nature of online learning as a limitation. It is, therefore, important to differentiate between knowledge and skill. While knowledge can be delivered and learned, skill-development needs experiment and experience that may not be feasible online.

To conclude with it is better late than never. Corona was really pushing for such a system of education creating ambiguous questions on quality of degrees and as such it is a welcome decision taken at the right time which will definitely set the direction towards blooming young buds. Even if we are about to go for offline classes, but still it is premature to predict when this fissure in the education system and that of taughts will be crammed up. What will be our future if we do not take steps to close or at least minimize this gulf, even if this adulteration in the education system may have a long gestation period. A large pool of unskilled human capital which will come out of the online pedagogy of these two years to join the future workforce will definitely face employability challenges. This situation is very worrying. Even after the epidemic, if our attitude towards education remained the same as was during pandemic, it would be a great misfortune for the nation and the country.

The writer is Assistant Professor (Selection Grade) at Govt. Degree College Chatroo and can be reached at [email protected]

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