Indian Education System Amidst the Covid-19 Crisis

Covid-19 pandemic, which originated in China, swiftly braced the globe catching all the countries unprepared for a crisis of such magnitude. Each of the countries have to come up with quick and spontaneous responses to withstand it. These measures have almost ubiquitously included the closure of educational institutions across the world to contain the spread of the contagious coronavirus. According to latest analysis provided by UNESCO, the learners impacted by such closures numbered to 1,067,968,447 by the end of June 2020. In India, more than 32 crore students those including school and college have got affected due to the closure. Covid-19 leading to such a large scale unplanned abruption in the functioning of educational institutions has impacted the Indian education system in a number of ways, which are analyzed in this article.

As the educational institutions have been ordered to be closed, its immediate bearing has been upon the examination schedules. Board Examinations have had to be suspended midway. Semester examinations at University level besides the other entrance and competitive exams (such as JEE, NEET, CLAT, etc.) are being continuously postponed, on the other hand. The students, specially those in the final year of schooling, graduation and post- graduation are gripped by grave sense of uncertainty as exam cycle and academic calendar for this year stand badly disturbed posing various impediments for their future career prospects. The remaining students are however relived to some extent as many institutions have granted them promotion to the next class.

As the campuses but continue to remain shut, Covid-19 has lead to substantial shift from blackboards to digital boards. The e-learning platforms have received a major boost as the restrictions of the lockdown compel the obliteration of the apprehensions, obstinacy and reluctance to adopt tech-based pedagogy. It is appreciable to note in this context that not only the private but the government schools have begun virtual classrooms. While Ed-tech companies and start-ups have displayed a philanthropic approach in the crisis, the government is entering into tie-ups with the e-learning service providers along with emphasizing and improvising its online education initiatives such as DIKSHA, e-PG Pathshala, SWAYAM, SWAYPRABHA, etc. to enrich the online mode of education. However, it will have to be recognised that the education ecosystem in India has been grossly unprepared for such a rapid technological upscale. It is visible in the consequent challenges being faced by teachers in ‘effective’ online delivery of the content, students in adopting the new methodology, especially those with poor or no access to Internet and parents in assisting them with the sudden change.

Moreover, Covid-19 has adversely restrained students’ mobility for academic pursuits. Indian Students’ Mobility Report 2020 on Higher Education Choices states that the coronavirus has effected the decisions of about 48.46% Indian students who wanted to study abroad. Similar effects can be observed upon inter-state mobility as the menace of the highly contagious disease continues to rise. The uncertainty pertaining to entrance exams and prospect of revised curriculum design is further adding to the disquietude of the students.

Constraints have emerged in the fields of research and internships too. Companies that have received a major blow due to the pandemic are rescinding internship offers. Research works are brought to halt to quite a large extent. Impediments can be majorly observed in the research areas that are significantly dependent on field work. Moreover, while the research related to Covid-19 is presently facing lack of financial support, the non-Covid-19 research work is likely to face setbacks due to lack of interest and funds to sponsor it (considering the preference the Covid-19 research work is likely to receive).

Furthermore , the impact of Covid-19 on Education has socio-economic repercussions too. These are being underscored by UNESCO from time to time, such as :

First, an important challenge is the Digital Divide. According to a TRAI report, only 34% of total population of India had access to Internet in 2017 which was marked by significant gender and regional disparity- while ratio of male and female users was approximately 70% and 30% respectively, 66% of the total population living in rural India accounted for mere 25.3% internet density but 34% urban population had around 98% internet connectivity. Even though the reports of Statista Research Department (March 2020) mentioned India as having the second largest Internet user base in the world, it is undeniable that proper accessibility to Internet has proved to be an issue of important concern especially during the Covid-19 times (that have turned Internet interaction into the new normal of the Education System).

To curb the disproportionate marginalization of the ‘most vulnerable’ due to closure of schools and the use of digital media, we not only need to rapidly develop a strong and inclusive Internet Infrastructure (which includes appropriate training and guidelines for all the stakeholders) but to also aid it with better delivery of Education via Television and Radio meanwhile. Open Education Resources (OER) are to prove efficacious in the “new normal”. 2012 OER Paris Declaration (that provides wide guidelines in this regard) should be referred while framing the revised Education Policy in the Covid-19 (or Post-Covid-19) world.

Second, the underprivileged children depend upon schools not only for education but also for nutrition, health and sanitation which they are unable to access to closure of schools. Taking heed of this the Ministry of Human Resource Development has directed the state governments to provide the children with mid-day meals or food security allowances and ration kits. Different states have performed differently and lack of execution at the grassroot level is still a challenge.

Third, analysts express fear regarding Dropout Rate among the students from deprived sections. With growing economic stress and loss of parents’ jobs, it is difficult to ensure that these students will return back once schools reopen. Even the middle-income group families have begun shifting their children to lower cost schools because of the reduced incomes.

Moreover, there exists the menace of increase in dropout rates among girls (from lower-income groups) “further entrenching gender gaps in education and leading to increased risk of sexual exploitation, early pregnancies and early and forced marriages”. This calls for the appropriate social and economic schemes and incentives on the part of government whenever normalcy resumes and educational institutions reopen.

It can be lastly concluded that Covid-19 has majorly effected all the important dimensions of the Education System. World Health Organization’s recent warning- ‘the virus may never go away’ implies that the Covid-19 battle will be a long one. It is undoubtedly one of the most challenging battles in the history of mankind, which is being fought at multiple fronts. However, “in the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity”. The availability of the “online alternative” amidst this Covid-19 chaos can act no less than a blessing in disguise.

India ranked 130 out of 141 countries in the March 2020 trends of Speedtest Global Index with the download speed of 10.15 Mbps compared to the global average of 30.47 Mbps. Undoubtedly it is a challenging overtaking yet the hopes can be put high as India also has to its advantage one of the world’s most extensive 4G networks and the facility of affordable data . Thus, these testing times must be utilised for the efficient development and improvement of an “inclusive” Online Education Infrastructure. Such a system can successfully ensure that education is accessible and affordable by everybody in India.

This will certainly strengthen position of India in the present Covid-19 warfare. It will also greatly supplement India’s endeavours to secure the fundamental right to free and compulsory education (Art. 21 A) to its citizens along with the Sustainable Development Goal 4 (Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all), which too has been one of India’s long-fought battles.

-Yashashwini Shukla (One of the Prize Winners of Article Writing Competition 2020 in the 13-24 Years Age Group)

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