In the last two years , India has achieved the dubious distinction of becoming the country with the second longest COVID-19 pandemic-linked school closure in the world–next only to Uganda. According to a United Nations report ,it is an estimated 82 weeks , with some intermittent classes in between . Much has been said ,written and published about the impact of school closure on learning loss. However,there has been very limited discourse on why—inspite of scientific evidence to support re-opening —Indian states continued to remain reluctant to reopen schools . Analysing the root causes of school closure in India is an urgent need to derive lessons and to guide future policy interventions .
The Bane of misinformation
To start with, one of the biggest reasons for continued school closure has been widespread misinformation. Unsubstantiated statements such as ‘the third wave would affect children ‘ and ‘let’s wait for vaccination of kids before reopening schools ‘ were made by influential individuals and amplified on social media . These scared parents and ( incorrectly) linked school reopening with COVID-19 vaccination of children. Occasional reports of children being hospitalised in different parts of the world were on loop on television channels , sensationalising the matter ; while it boosted their target rating point (TRP) ,it harmed hapless children.
Two, the opinion of a small section of privileged parents and self proclaimed representatives of their association — often not fully understanding the complexity of issues — dominated and prevailed in the mainstream discourse. Though surveys had indicated that poor and middle class parents – no matter which part of the country they were from — wanted schools to be open ,they were largely ignored in decision making , which was also influenced by ‘sensational ‘ newspaper reports and high pitched TV debates. Many experts-on-everything appeared on television channels with the argument ‘ let’s err on the side of caution ‘ , as if epidemiological and scientific evidence were of no value .
Every time privileged parents or an ‘expert on everything’ spoke, they deprived children from poor and marginalised backgrounds of their opportunity of and right to education. It needs no reiteration that, in the last two years, already wide educational inequities have only widened further.
Three, the Government’s response, at all levels, to the misinformation was delayed and arguably insufficient. Though science communication increased over a period of time, it did not match the pace of misinformation. Politicians in most States played to the gallery and used the opposition (by a small group of the mostly privileged) to re-open schools as an excuse to delay school reopening.
- The learnings during the novel coronavirus pandemic have been (wrongly) equated with completion of the syllabus.
- Continued school closure and a hesitation in reopening academic institutions are the symptoms of a deeper malady in India’s education system.