Varsha Singh’s son, Gatik, was just 4-years-old when he got admission in Nursery in February 2020 at St Francis College, Hazratganj. Gatik was supposed to go to his school from March 2020. Almost two years have passed by and the child will turn six this April and go to Class 1 without attending school for even a single day.

There are thousands of children like Gatik who were admitted to Nursery and Kindergarten sections of schools but never entered the portals of their campuses.

Likewise, in the last two years, Classes 1 to 5 remained closed for about 505 days, including 351 days in the 2020-21 session and 154 days in 2021-22. Similarly, for Classes 6 to 8, school remained closed for 478 days: 332 days of 2020-21 and 146 days in 2021-22. For classes 9 to 12, there was no school for 351 days with 213 days of 2020 and 138 days of 2021.

Schools for pre-primary, primary and junior students have mostly been closed for more than one year now due to Covid-19 lockdowns. For many students, these last 20 months have been almost a complete write off in terms of learning.

“This is evident from students who have been admitted in our rural school Vidyasthali, and our school for underprivileged girls – Prerna,” said Urvashi Sahni, founding president and CEO, Study Hall Educational Foundation, Lucknow.

Pre-schoolers and younger kids can’t deal with online classes

“Students in higher classes can deal with a virtual classroom, but pre-schoolers and younger children cannot. They don’t have the capabilities to stay focused for that long. They are unable to develop a habit of studying consistently,” said Nazia Faraz, mother of Syed Daanyaal (7), a student at Kendriya Vidyalaya, RDSO (CBSE board).

Sadaf Qidwai, the mother of another Class 2 student added, “My daughter’s school ensured regular online classes and activities. However, despite the best efforts, the negative impact of sitting in front of the laptop screen cannot be avoided. It causes headaches and strain on the eyes at such a young age.”

Students also feel that their personality, learning capabilities, growth, and approach are being impacted. “I am unable to stay focused on online classes, and it also causes headaches. I feel that I am becoming an introvert each day. I hope that Covid-19 comes under control soon so that physical classes can resume,” Divyanshi Agarwal (12), a Class 7 student, said.

Personality of students suppressed

“The quality of education and overall personality of students is getting suppressed. In online examinations, students only get to answer MCQs and cannot inculcate the habit of answering subjective answers physically,” said Ravi Kumar, father of an 8-year-old. Primary and pre-primary are not getting the necessary atmosphere for their development, he added.

“I miss the inside of a classroom and the fun I had with my friends. Online classes are tiresome, and I don’t understand my lessons that well,” shared Zoha Fatima, a Class 2 student.

“There is an imminent need to arrange for regular physical classes for students of all ages. Their vaccination will also be a contributing factor towards some normalcy in the education sector,” said Vinay Singh, father of Adarsh Singh (Class 2).

‘School education scenario during pandemic chaotic’

Former CBSE chairman, Ashok Ganguly said, “Both 2020-21 and 21-22 was almost like a zero year session. This has badly impacted students’ learning achievement. It has not only impacted cognitive intelligence but has also badly affected the psychomotor excellence and the affective domain. Though there were sincere efforts at the grassroots level, particularly in the private sector, to continue the learning process during this period, the government response was ad-hoc and minimal.

“This situation may continue for some more time. Now the question arises: how to come out from this impasse? No tangible solution will be achieved by just arbitrarily reducing the syllabus. The very purpose of learning will be disrupted and diluted by recourse to such half-hearted measures.”

Offline classes, particularly for Classes 9 to12 be resumed

Ganguly added, “We need to continue the learning process and for this, sincere curriculum planning is required. The curriculum can be completed in three parts- through classroom process, digital platform and through project mode. So hybrid learning must become an integral part of our curriculum process. The offline classes, particularly from classes 9 to12 be resumed, may be of shorter duration with strict Covid-19 protocol. The video lesson of the offline portion of the curriculum, particularly the hard spots, must be made and students must have the choice either to attend offline classes or go through them only in online mode. The assignments and the formative assessments of the students must be made through the digital platform. Doordarshan and other educational channels should come in a big way to support continuity of learning. The very issue of summer and winter vacation be revisited and a six-day week be reintroduced in the schooling process.”

Online teaching is more easily said than done’

“It’s important to understand that online teaching is more easily said than done, more so for the millions of children, especially girls, who have very limited access to devices and the internet. This problem is even more acute in rural India. The digital divide in India and elsewhere has never been more starkly visible. So for a majority of our children in India, it has been a long drought of learning,” said Dr Urvashi Sahni of Study Hall Educational Foundation, Lucknow.

She said, “Even for the more fortunate who have easy access to devices and the internet, online fatigue has set in. Children are missing being physically in schools with their teachers and friends. This is a very important part of going to school. It is imperative that schools be opened in a staggered manner soon, with limited numbers of students. It is more important than opening restaurants, malls etc.”

Lack of peer engagement & well-being issues

The lack of peer engagement brought its own mental health and well-being issues. Chalk and talk and the school environment cannot be replaced by home study. Holistic development is on campus and not through an unreal virtual world of gizmos and gadgets. Online teaching can only assist but not replace school, said Mala Mehra, principal of Hoerner College.

She said, “The way forward is definitely going back to school with interface learning. Schools must function in their entirety. All protocols of Covid-19 in place, schools in fact, are safe havens for children. We have to take forward these children as academics will lead the nation towards growth. We need to secure the future of our youth. We need to have them back in schools.”

Safety of children paramount

La Martiniere Girls’ College principal, Aashrita Dass, is in disagreement with other heads of institutions. “Learning as in education has not been lost. Online classes have led to lesser teaching hours where many children have found time to pursue many other talents and skills. A lot of learning has happened. Yes, children have lost out on other learning like social behaviour and friendships and one-on-one talking skills.” At LMGC, physical classes remained fully shut for students up to Class 8 as she says safety of children is paramount.

(With inputs from Faara Nadeem)

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